Tuesday, August 14, 2007

People Are Strange

Oops...I did it again.

I posted the following comment in Finland for Thought today:

I remember when our then-17 year old Finnish exchange student arrived in California for the year. She had a picture of herself pulling the lever on a slot machine. I assumed it was a joke, until she clarified that you didn’t have to be 18 to gamble in Finland.

We took her to Las Vegas later, where the gambling age is 21. Because she was not legally allowed to gamble, she was relegated to the “kid zone,” which was a bunch of arcade games. She probably lost more money at the arcade games than she would have lost at the slots.

She’s 21 now, but hasn’t yet had the opportunity to return and truly experience the “joys” of Vegas (or of our Native American casinos in California, for that matter).

Turns out that Finland is considering raising their minimum age for gambling. In some cases 15 year olds (such as my then-exchange student) can gamble, and this worries some.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is proposing that those under the age of 18 should not be allowed to engage in any gambling - including playing lottery games and slot machines.

The proposal is included in a statement that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has sent to the Ministry of the Interior, which is preparing changes to the law on lotteries.

The proposed legislation is aimed at preventing social damage caused by gambling.

No it's not. If they really wanted to completely prevent social damage caused by gambling, they'd ban the practice entirely.

But of course, that wouldn't work. And if you believe the Cato Institute, we shouldn't ban anything:

The lessons of Prohibition remain important today. They apply not only to the debate over the war on drugs but also to the mounting efforts to drastically reduce access to alcohol and tobacco and to such issues as censorship and bans on insider trading, abortion, and gambling....

He and other champions of Prohibition expected it to reduce crime and solve a host of social problems by eliminating the Demon Rum. Early temperance reformers claimed that alcohol was responsible for everything from disease to broken homes. High on their list of evils were the crime and poverty associated with intemperance. They felt that the burden of taxes could be reduced if prisons and poorhouses could be emptied by abstinence. That perspective was largely based on interviews of inmates of prisons and poorhouses who claimed that their crimes and poverty were the result of alcohol. Social "scientists" later used those correlations as propaganda "to persuade many people to turn to saloon suppression and prohibition."...

The Volstead Act, passed to enforce the Eighteenth Amendment, had an immediate impact on crime. According to a study of 30 major U.S. cities, the number of crimes increased 24 percent between 1920 and 1921. The study revealed that during that period more money was spent on po- lice (11.4+ percent) and more people were arrested for violating Prohibition laws (102+ percent). But increased law enforcement efforts did not appear to reduce drinking: arrests for drunkenness and disorderly conduct increased 41 percent, and arrests of drunken drivers increased 81 percent. Among crimes with victims, thefts and burglaries increased 9 percent, while homicides and incidents of assault and battery increased 13 percent.[42] More crimes were committed because prohibition destroys legal jobs, creates black-market violence, diverts resources from enforcement of other laws, and greatly increases the prices people have to pay for the prohibited goods.

But, of course, the part that really bugged the Cato Institute was the following:

Carroll Wooddy concluded that the "Eighteenth Amendment . . . contributed substantially to the growth of government and of government costs in this period [1915-32]."

And, of course, after the repeal of Prohibition, the size of government decreased substantially. (Heh.)

But not in Washington, where the claw (yes, we're back to the kid zone again) influenced legislation:

This morning [February 7 2006], Senate Ways & Means allowed SB 6523 to die in committee, largely due to the machinations of Coinstar, Inc. and it’s uber-lobbyist, Vito Chiechi.

Why the hell would Coinstar want to kill a bill that raises the state’s legal gambling age from 18 to 21?...

In addition to coin-counting machines, Coinstar also has a $5 million a year business on amusement games, like the stupid giant claw you sometimes find near the entrances of supermarkets, enticing children with the elusive promise of a big prize. At the hearing, Coinstar testified to their concern that the bill would also raise the age on carnival and amusement games… testimony which I initially dismissed as silly; the bill clearly defined to which activities it applied, and the giant claw was not one of them.

What I hadn’t realized is that representing Coinstar was the dean of Olympia’s lobbyists, Vito Chiechi, a kind of mini-Jack Abramoff, with strong ties to gambling, alcohol, tobacco and other sin-related industries....

It turns out that Coinstar has had a running battle with the state Gambling Commission, chafing at requests for financial records and other documents, and yearning to get out from under the Commission’s oversight. So Coinstar and Chiechi had Sen. Jim Honeyford...insert an amendment that removed references to “amusement games” from the gambling statutes, thus removing Coinstar’s activities from Gambling Commission oversight.

So today the bill goes to Ways and Means — the last day for a bill to move out of the committee and onto Rules — and it’s “suddenly” discovered that by removing all references to amusement games, the Honeyford amendment may have inadvertently made these games illegal! Rather than fixing the language, Ways and Means chair, Sen. Margerita Prentice decided to table the bill entirely.


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