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January 04, 1965
THE STATE AS BOOKIE
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January 04, 1965

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THE STATE AS BOOKIE

The recent success of New Hampshire's state racing lottery and the probable imminence of action by the New York State legislature on an off-track betting bill suggest that a national trend toward legalized gambling, on a broader scale than now obtains, may be in the offing. A heated debate on the moral, social and practical issues is developing, and we would like to give our opinion on some of these.

Moral attitudes toward gambling are very like those toward drinking. A puritan ethic shrinks from both. Other ethics accept or even embrace them. Most of the bigger states authorize (and profit from) gambling in some form, usually by pari-mutuel betting at racetracks. So far as the states are concerned, the question would seem to be more a problem in politics than morality. From a political standpoint, the off-track betting proposals derive from a dire need for tax money, nothing more.

But state-operated betting shops might well create a serious sociological problem. They would, it is suggested, make gambling temptingly easy for the so-called economically underprivileged who now perhaps find only rare opportunity to bet at a track or with an illegal bookmaker. This would seem to be a particularly valid argument in a city with large slum areas or one that has as high a percentage of its population on relief (5�%) as New York.

Except that the poor do bet now anyhow. And quite easily. The most lucrative of the gambling rackets, policy, derives its millions from the pennies of the very lowest economic class. Whether the slum dweller would bet more if betting shops were open to him is a question. Certainly the prohibition of liquor did not diminish drinking appreciably in the slums, nor did repeal increase it.

Some people find it appalling that city and state should turn themselves into bookies—but they are already that, by virtue of the cut they take out of the mutuels; with legal off-track betting, they would merely become bigger bookies. On the other side, it is argued that off-track betting would divert into constructive channels money now going to illegal bookmakers. A naive thought. Most of the bookies' action is on the numbers game (which would be affected by a legal lottery), football, baseball and basketball—not horses. Furthermore, bookies could compete with the administration by offering, say, 5% over the official odds; bookies, not as greedy as politicians, would be happy to settle for a 10% cut instead of 15 or more.

Our direct concern is with the welfare of the sport of horse racing. Horsemen in Thoroughbred and harness racing are violently opposed to off-track betting, but we predict their opposition will melt if they can gouge out of city and state a bigger share of the spoils. Money is what this particular issue boils down to—money for the state and money for the horsemen. We would feel far more sympathy with the latter if in the past they had shown equal concern for the integrity of their sport. As for us, our favor or disfavor with respect to off-track betting will be determined when a specific bill is presented for a vote and we then may judge how it will affect horse racing itself.

CHALLENGE FROM THE EAST

As recently as 1946 there was hardly a hockey player to be found in all of the U.S.S.R. Now there are 300,000, and a team drawn from these has been embarrassing Canadians at their national sport. The Russians have beaten or tied all opponents on their just-completed tour, among them the Montreal Junior Canadiens, bolstered with professionals, and Canada's National team, which the Russians beat three times.

After seeing Montreal go down to a 3-2 defeat, Lynn Patrick, general manager of the Boston Bruins, had this to say:

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