One of the more exciting features of the latest recession has been the collapse of tax revenue flowing into the coffers of the individual US states. Sales are down so there’s less tax take there. Property values have crashed through the floor so, where tax is a percentage of valuation, the tax take has fallen – with so many properties foreclosed and families unemployed, payment of the tax has been difficult to enforce. People have been earning less and businesses have made less profit so, again, less income tax. Put everything together and many states are effectively bankrupt, their bonds reduced to junk status by the credit rating agencies. Yet there is no political will to really grasp the nettle of tax increases. If the electorate want the same level of services from the state, they have to pay for them. If they genuinely will not pay, they must be prepared to accept real cuts in the quality of the services. Perhaps this recession will finally break through the stubborn refusal to pay a larger percentage of income as tax. While we wait for this revolution, individual states are playing around the margins to save a few dollars here, and raise a few dollars there. Their theory is that federal government will not allow them to fail. Like AIG, many of the states are “too big”. So bail-out money will save them from having to make the hard decisions.
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In many ways, the US has the best and the worst system of federal and state governments in the world. Arguably it has the qualities of being the best because, even though it’s a two-horse race, there’s enough of a difference between the political intentions of the successful candidates to make life interesting. But it’s one of the worst because of the level of corruption in the lawmaking following elections. Money speaks loud behind the scenes with different lobbying groups pressuring the elected representatives to deliver on the promises they made to get the campaign funds. For these purposes, it makes no difference which party you look at. All the individuals at every level in the political system depend on “donations” to get elected. When it comes to the world of gambling, the politics get particularly complicated. For individual states, the revenue derived from the different forms of licensed gambling helps avoid complete financial meltdown. Yes, there’s a recession, but this has only slowed the flow of money into gambling. Unlike other sources of tax revenue, the gamblers of America are helping balance budgets. But there are different interested parties. In one corner stand the real world casino operators who want the least possible regulation on their activities. Their group is not united because the casinos on Indian land have advantages and, some say, represent unfair competition. We should not forget the other sites who can get licences to run slots. In another corner stand the racing interests. They are long-standing political players and also want the maximum freedom to run their own betting operations with the least interference from states. This blurs into another group that runs betting operations on other sporting events. While a more distant group runs online casinos.
One of the fascinating things about the internet is the speed with which some new sites take off. One minute, you have this tiresome start-up calling itself Facebook, the next everyone has an account. In this context, the rise (and rise) of Chatroulette is all the more exciting. We’ve all been chatting and skyping for so long we can’t remember. Webcams have been standard pieces of kit, turning up to allow machine-to-machine video conferencing and to show all kinds of interesting activities when they are planted in unexpected places. So adding in the gambling element completes the picture (as it were). At one level, you could describe the site as your chance to meet new people, except these people could be doing absolutely anything when random chance connects you. In a conventional world, everyone participating would sit calmly in front of their PCs, wearing all their clothes and a welcoming smile. Unfortunately, the randomness and anonymity of the system encourages people to slide towards pornography or voyeurism depending on your inclinations. A remarkable number of people seem prepared to get naked and show off their genitals, or dress up as animals or apparently conduct weird social experiments by giving viewers curious instructions. It’s the more sane people who hit the news. Ben Folds has been singing us songs, and a new celebrity is running a primitive gambling scam.
This site is not Libertarian but we know what we like about gambling and the experience of going into casinos. While we can all approve of regulations to keep gambling reasonably honest and fair, there comes a point when enough is enough with the lawmaking. Let’s take the issue of smoking as an example. Most of us probably believe the science linking tobacco with fatal diseases. Whether you smoke or draw in the smoke second-hand, the risks of cancer and heart disease are even admitted by the tobacco industry. So, on New Year, we all repeat our resolution not to start or to quit. It’s all down to us – a personal decision. If we do decide to smoke, this is a “victimless crime”. No-one is forcing us to do this and it should not be for the law to get involved in making any part of smoking a crime. There are no laws criminalising overeating even though the obese die younger, or threatening to put alcoholics in jail because they are damaging their livers. People own their own bodies and should be allowed to do what they want with it.
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Whichever time you look at, there has always been gambling. For example, there is evidence of keno, dice and mahjong being played in Ancient China from 2,000 B.C. onward. Different forms of gaming were also a popular pastime in the other major ancient civilizations of India, Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome. Despite attempts to ban or control gambling because of its addictive nature, it has persisted until today. Sometimes it went underground, while other governments allowed commercialisation. Throughout, gambling has been seen as a social activity. The rich would gather in each others palaces and mansions to play or attend exclusive clubs. The poor would flock to “dens of iniquity” which were often run by criminal gangs tied into the worlds of prostitution and street drugs. This history is one long transfer of wealth from one individual to another. Before regulation, it was usually the criminal gangs that became rich. After regulation, those in positions of power took their commissions while governments subsidized the taxpayers through levies and taxes. But there was one constant thread. Whether you were an aristocrat lounging in a casino in an exclusive spa town in Europe or panning for gold in the 1840′s and 50′s, the majority of games depended on live dealing or the supervision of the betting by an employee of the House. In the more modern clubs and casinos, the dealers and croupiers have often been beautiful women, dressed attractively. In their own right, they were part of the attraction of the “place”. The men would come, leaving their wives at home, to lose their money while ogling the girls.