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When ‘the poor’ become a talking point

Full disclosure: I am an unrepentant supporter of legalized gambling in Alabama – not because of all of the funding it would generate for education or other state programs, though that would be phenomenal, but because I like gambling.

That’s right, I enjoy playing games of chance of every kind – back in its heyday, I’d be at Victoryland nearly every day betting on the races in Montgomery and Birmingham and wouldn’t leave until the last race was run on those tracks; every other week, I jump into a poker game with hundreds of dollars on the table; and I always carry dice around, just in case someone wants to throw a few on the sidewalk or the hood of my car.

I just like it and I see no moral reason for its prohibition in the state.

But, as someone who has covered the gambling debate in this state for nearly a decade, I’ve noticed the strangest thing – it happens every time legislators start considering gambling legislation: out of the woodworks, every time, come the anti-gambling activists suddenly terrified about the damage that gambling might do to the poor in the state.

To be sure, there’s no argument over the fact that poor people are more likely to gamble than their more well-off counterparts, but so too are they more likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and, in general, be more susceptible to social ills that don’t impact the better-offs in society quite as badly.

So, on its face, the argument being made by these ne’er-gamblers is not without merit, but their hypocrisy would be laughable if it didn’t continually come at such a high cost to the state.

Where were these anti-gambling pundits, so concerned about the poor, when the state rejected the opportunity to expand Medicaid? No doubt, poor people in this state could absolutely use access to affordable, quality healthcare.

Where are these anti-gambling thinkers when the debate arises about increasing the minimum wage? No doubt, poor people in this state could absolutely use a pay raise.

Where was the anti-gambling crowd when lawmakers pushed to remove the tax on groceries? No doubt, poor people in this state could absolutely use a cheaper grocery bill every month.

The answer is simple and obvious – they don’t actually care about poor people in this state, they simply use them as a talking point whenever legislation comes up that conflicts with their interests.

It’s frustrating to see poor people, who are suffering from very real problems that our state lawmakers could have solved years ago, used as props by the very people who have fought against every effort to improve their plight.

Indeed, would the ills plagued upon the poor by gambling be so devastating if they could afford groceries, go to the doctor when they’re sick and earn a living wage? Absolutely not, because then their poverty would not be so damning, so crippling, and perhaps they wouldn’t be lured by the possibility of a big win, just a chance at a handful of dollars more than they walked in with.

We manufacture desperation and then criticize those who are desperate; then we turn around and use their desperation as a tool for undermining changes that might alleviate their desperation – it really is absurd to watch.

Just like smoking or drinking, if gambling’s not for you then you never have to walk into a casino in your life or play a game of chance, but let’s not pretend that the motives for keeping casinos and gambling illegal in the state are based on some concern for the poor – the anti-gambling crowd has proven time and again that it has no real concern for the poor, or at least no interest in approving legislation that might actually improve their lives, and it’s shameful to see them assert otherwise.