HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html We've Legalized The Wrong Sin
Pubdate: Sun, 3 Jan 1999
Source: Halifax Daily News (Canada)
Copyright: 1999 The Daily News.

Gambling wasn't a problem until the government stepped in

Throughout history, vast criminal organizations have been built on the
triad of three great sins - sex, illicit substances, and gambling. Now
we've given government a legal monopoly over gambling, and our
bureaucratic mobsters have hooked Nova Scotians on a billion-dollar
habit - or so we learned last week as a Christmas Eve present from the
Alcohol and Gaming Authority's annual report.

Of these three great sins, gambling was the worst to legalize. There
are good reasons to legalize prostitution or even hard drugs. They
destroy lives despite their illegality. Legalization, under strict
control, might help limit these pathologies. Everything was different
with gambling. It was the only great sin society, in all these
thousands of years, had largely solved.

Before the legalization, a few lost souls ruined their lives in
illicit gaming dens or in Los Vegas or Atlantic City. Such ruination
was rare. The numbers paled in comparison to lives ruined through
drugs or the sex trade. Not any more.

Gambling was legalized because it seemed a solved problem. Now, the
predictable has happened. Addiction has taken root and tragic stories
abound. It's not just the lives ruined, but also the money taken out
of the local economy that does damage.

And, there's the big new addict, government, which loves the rush of
gambling revenues. This is government's most unfair tax, built on
dreams and desperation, and paid by the least fortunate in society.

Nothing could be more perverse than legalizing a sin because it had
been banished as an evil. We should only consider legalizing sins that
remain destructive despite their illegality, such as the sex and drug
trades - not marijuana, but the hard drugs that ruin lives.

This isn't because prostitution or hard drugs are good things, but
because we may be able to limit their destructiveness through
legalization and control.

That was the motivation for overturning prohibition, and it

Prohibition did not solve society's problem with alcohol; it made the
problem worse. Easy money from rum-running built criminal empires on
violent foundations. This is true today of the drug trade and, to a
lesser extent, the sex trade.

The illegality of the sex trade is more pretense than

Every city has a bountiful listing of massage parlours and escort
services. Unlike gambling before legalization, lives are being ruined
everyday by the sex trade, particularly the lives of women, at worst
working on the street for vicious pimps - and all too often not women,
but girls.

This is the worst of all worlds. It's illegal, but prevalent and
entirely unregulated. Legalizing prostitution and giving the
prostitutes some legal protection, while isolating the trade to a
non-residential district - the solution in much of Europe - would
lessen victimization.

Let's tax it. That would turn a costly enforcement problem into a
revenue stream.

Notice the difference between this and gambling. Instead of recreating
a problem - the case with gambling - we would bring an existing
problem under government control. Instead of increasing victimization,
we would lessen it.

Instead of finding new ways of diverting income from the least
fortunate into government coffers, we would divert revenue from
criminal elements into government coffers.

The same logic applies to the drug trade, ironically to the hardest
drugs. The case for legalizing soft drugs is weak. They create few
large society-wide problems.

But criminal empires, and vast cash flows, are built on hard

Legalization would cut the foundations out from under these evil
empires and, by bringing drugs under the purview of law, lessen the
everyday occurrence of vicious petty crime to feed the addiction.
Regulated outlets would supply drugs to known addicts who would be
closely monitored in exchange for their supply.

The case for legalizing hard drugs is similar to the one for
prostitution - legalization would lessen victimization, reduce revenue
for criminal rings, and bring new revenue for government.

The complications are graver. Would legalization bring more control or
more addicts? Still, this is worthy of debate.

Gambling is the only sin for which there was no reason for debate, no
coherent argument for legalization. It was a solved, healed wound we
didn't need to reopen. So we legalized it.

Our government, like an out-of-control addict, continues to pin its
hopes on more gambling. Our economic-development policies are so
bankrupt the government actually conceives of Halifax's casino as an
economic development strategy - even though it will just take money
out of more productive businesses. Then an unproductive government and
the casino, like dirty dealers, take their split of the take.

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