Public lottery stall, East entrance, Shibuya Station, Tokyo.
Image: Wikipedia

An argument for legalized gambling


In New York, which was the second state to introduce lotteries after New Hampshire, the lottery has generated $39.3 billion for education since 1967.

Gambling / In the early 1800s they were run by private individuals. One was even used to raise funds for George Washington’s army. But they are something that Hawaii’s residents cannot participate in.

I’m talking about lotteries, of course.

Of the 50 states, 43 have legal state-run lotteries as do Puerto Rico (where state lotteries began in 1934), the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands. The stickouts are Hawaii, Alaska, Alabama, Mississippi (has casinos), Nevada (Las Vegas casinos), Utah and Wyoming.

Only Hawaii and Utah have a total ban on all types of gambling.

Some people see the ban on gambling in Hawaii as anti-Chinese because historically gambling has been part of Chinese culture.

But in that case the ban can also be seen as anti-Hawaiian because even in royal days Hawaiians could gamble on horse races.

And gambling is still part of the Hawaiian culture, which has led to Las Vegas being called Hawaii’s ninth island or Hawaii East.

So every year Hawaiians take some of their hard-earned cash and use it to boost Nevada’s economy. It is estimated that Hawaii loses more than $100 million every year to Nevada in this way as every week 3,000 Hawaiians turn their backs on Hawaii and step onto a plane bound for Las Vegas. Some of them go five or six times a year.

That’s money that Hawaii can’t afford to lose. The fact that public servants are put on furlough every month because the Hawaiian budget can’t afford to pay them shows that something is wrong in the state of our finances.

Those in favor of the ban on gambling have been successful so far in having their opinions heard loud and clear. Hawaii’s missionary past was no doubt the impetus for the ban, which some people see as Hawaii being a “nanny state” with the population treated as children not capable of deciding how they will spend their own money.

Many Hawaiians choose to spend that money in Nevada because there is not the opportunity for them to choose to spend it in Hawaii. In fact 80,000 of them have moved to Las Vegas permanently.

As that old saying goes, you can ban something, but people are still going to want to do it. Does anyone remember prohibition? The ban itself led to the swath of crime that arose because Americans still wanted to drink, still wanted the right to drink.

Because Hawaiians can go to Las Vegas and gamble do they suddenly become prone to crime? No, they conduct themselves as mature adults in Las Vegas so why wouldn’t the same be true if they could save their airfares and hotel bills and gamble at home?

Alabama–which is under pressure right now to legalize the lottery–provides 60 percent of the money nextdoor neighbor Georgia generates from its lottery. Does that not show that Alabamans want the freedom to be able to buy a lottery ticket?

In New York, which was the second state to introduce lotteries after New Hampshire, the lottery has generated $39.3 billion for education in that state since 1967. In fact, more than half of the states with legal lotteries–24–use that money for education.

All of the original 13 colonies had lotteries to help build their early economies. New York’s City Hall was built in part with lottery revenue. Lotteries were also used to build and repair the state’s canals, roads, ferries and bridges. Even churches were built from lottery funds as were famous US universities including Yale, Harvard and Columbia.

Gambling is also part of the Australian culture, so much so that in the state of Victoria, there is a state holiday for a horse race–the Melbourne Cup. On the second Tuesday in November when Americans are electing their president, Australians are picking the best horse in the race. It doesn’t mean the skies fall in and Australia is damned to hell. It just means that for one day in the year Australians are joined in a common activity which brings the country together. In offices all across the country, TV screens are delivered so that the staff can watch the race and enjoy a chicken and champagne lunch together with their colleagues. It’s a chance to remember that life should be celebrated and enjoyed.

Even the most famous building in Australia–the Sydney Opera House–was built by funds generated from a lottery specifically for the purpose –the Opera House Lottery. If not for that lottery, the world would have lost a true building of beauty. And by taking part in that lottery ordinary Australians were able to feel that they had each contributed to the building of one of the unique icons of the world.

If lotteries were legalized in Hawaii, Hawaiians no doubt could still choose to go to Las Vegas but they might not go so often and they might choose to spend some of their gambling money in Hawaii. A legal lottery would also allow those Hawaiians and visitors who wished to, to be able to buy a lottery ticket in their own state, thus giving a boost to their own economy through local businesses.

But more than that, buying a lottery ticket is a symbol of hope. Why shouldn’t Hawaiians be able to buy a ticket in the hope that they will win the big prize and be able to do more for their families and friends than they can do currently? After all, somebody has to win. Let’s hope it’s Hawaii.

Sally Squires is a former columnist and editor with The Daily News in West Australia.