Wigdor: Free to gamble, free to be

Soon, they’ll cancel Jeopardy, too.

When the 2003 Act to Repeal Las Vegas Night Games cancelled Morse and Stiles’ beloved Casino Night, I was forced to consider what exactly constitutes the “gambling equipment” that is now illegal. Should I delete blackjack from my phone? Do I have to turn in my candy-dispensing slot machine? Are my Dungeons and Dragons dice not safe? Need I fear state officials busting into my statistics class as my professor demonstrates probability with a pack of playing cards?

Cancelling Casino Night struck me as petty and overbearing, as no real gambling was to take place. Hartford doesn’t need to be the mother we left behind when we came to Yale. College is the time for a little debauchery. This crossroads from youth to adulthood is riddled with new experiences; it’s a chance to try the things we’ve never tried (and might not want to try again) with plenty of safety nets and hand-holding along the way. Some Yalies’ future fortune may now be gambled away one day thanks to the state, who prevented that poor slob from learning when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em at Casino Night.

The move seems a little imprudent, too. A University-sanctioned party is hardly worth the resources spent busting it because of the presence of gambling equipment, especially during an escalating economic crisis. The government should be more worried about issues like crime and poverty than students spinning roulette wheels in their Sunday best for Monopoly money.

Questions of efficiency aside, however, the state government’s intervention in the lifestyles of its citizens symbolizes a fundamental violation of the governor-governed relationship. This is a country where any religion can be practiced, any belief can be held, and (almost) any word can be spoken. It follows, then, that as long as others aren’t affected by one person’s actions, that he might be able to do as he pleases, as well. The freedom to exercise private rights is at stake in many of the hot issues today — abortion and same-sex marriage among them — but I’d venture to add the right to gamble to that list. Laws outlawing gambling, let alone our collegiate mimicry of gambling, violate the ideal that we should protect individual freedom as long as it does not impede another’s individual freedom.

The majority, so represented in our democracy, has no right to regulate the private lives of other citizen, whether through legislation, ballot initiatives or court rulings. Any citizen of Connecticut ought to be able to do with his or her property what he or she likes — including risking it in a game of calculated chance. In this respect, slot machines and roulette wheels aren’t too different from the stock market and the lottery, both of which are institutionalized forms of gambling.

Hartford has overstepped its bounds. This state’s responsibility to protect its residents is only intact insofar as those residents are actually threatened. It’s one thing to outlaw indoor smoking and impose dining hall health standards; it’s entirely another to decide which card games students can play at parties or what residents can do with their money. Vegas-style casino games do not pose a danger to the players or those around them, and so the state government’s jurisdiction does not extend to these innocuous activities.

One likely reason for gambling’s stigma is the culture that is popularly assumed to accompany it. Its most recognizable images — brightly-lit, oversexed Las Vegas casinos and mob-like loan sharks — are, however, a result of the gambling ban, not a reason for it. If the prohibition movement taught us anything, it’s that criminalizing a private activity accelerates its negative side effects, not hinders them.

While the right to gamble remains up for debate, the right to pretend to gamble seems pretty uncontestable. Yalies aren’t going to sleep with hookers and lose their fortunes any less now because they spent Saturday night smoking cigars instead of playing craps. If Hartford wants to stop potential criminal activity, they’ll have better luck at Toad’s.

Jared Wigdor is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College.

Comments