Conclusions in My Economist Debate

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Our concluding arguments have been posted in my Economist debate about legalized gambling.

You should go vote for me, if for no other reason than that my argument includes a bad pun taken from a Kris Kristofferson lyric.

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29 Responses to “Conclusions in My Economist Debate”

  1. #1 |  JS | 

    “Banning gambling because a seventh-grade teacher knocked over banks to feed her addiction makes about as much as sense as banning Jodie Foster from appearing in movies because John Hinckley, Jr shot Ronald Reagan in an effort to impress her. We shouldn’t be passing laws in response to anecdotes.”

    Effing gold mate!

  2. #2 |  SES | 

    Man. Love the way he desperately attempts (in vain) to limit the scope of the debate to “predatory gambling,” then ignores the fact that, by his own admission 90% of gamblers aren’t a problem. Way to dodge the entire debate.

    Frankly, Bernal’s argument is embarrassing; he’s reduced to yelping about the “national character.” Way to hand him his hat, Radley.

    Oh, and +1 on the Jodi Foster reference. Pure gold.

  3. #3 |  Wesley | 

    Les Bernal’s closing is his worst argument yet, and I didn’t think it was possible to get any worse. First, he recharacterizes being against prohibition to be in favor of our government “actively own and promote predatory gambling.” Then he includes a couple of anecdotes, and cites his debunked “statistic” about where casinos’ money comes from, all filled with the standard paternalist talking points about how we just need to care about the little guy.

    My favorite part is when Bernal states that (paraphrasing) “Prohibition didn’t work, but buying a lotto ticket is different from buying a beer, because a lotto ticket might actually have a reward!” And by “favorite part” I mean it’s the part where I lost the most IQ points and my brain started crying tears out of my pores.

  4. #4 |  Dave Krueger | 

    While not having read the piece yet, I wonder if the Kristofferson reference could be “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to loose.”

  5. #5 |  auggie | 

    If this debate were a hand of poker Radley played it perfectly. Les bernal got caught post flop with nothing and should have folded early on. Nice job Radley thanks for protecting our freedoms so eloquently.

  6. #6 |  Jet | 

    I’m disappointed that Bernal couldn’t come up with any more meaningful arguments than “predatory gambling’s bad, mkay”. Radley, you did a masterful job. It would be a travesty if con side managed to squeak a win out of that debate. The opposition was weak, weak, weak.

  7. #7 |  awp | 

    Is it so obvious that all intelligent people can see it, so that I just made an easy call, or did I get to have little contribution to your argument?

    “Les Bernal stakes a much more absurd, downright Orwellian position: Banning commercial gambling would expand our freedom.”

    #17 | awp | July 24th, 2010 at 2:06 am

    I really hope that you point out that once you remove your opponents moral posturing, straw-men, and anecdotes (Oh my god all our grannies are going to become bank robbing gambling addicts), his only real argument is the rather Orwellian notion that government must restrict our freedom for us to be free.

    Great minds think alike.

  8. #8 |  ktc2 | 

    It’s too bad there’s no way to ensure that all voters on the issue have read the debate before posting. A lot of people just read oh, it’s pro gambling and vote against Radley without any actual thought or reading.

  9. #9 |  Dave Krueger | 

    It’s sad that a country which habitually (and somewhat zombie-like) proclaims its commitment to freedom is so heavily populated with people who can’t wait to shed it.

    I think people define freedom so narrowly that they don’t even see activities like gambling as being freedoms. They’re merely vices which, like lumps in oatmeal, we can all do without. Freedoms are big. During WWII, freedom was not having to learn to speak German or Japanese. During the Cold War freedom was not having to learn Russian or suffer an atomic attack. After 9/11 it’s become all about not having to become a Muslim. Presidents who rescued us from those fates are our heroes.

    A lot of people wouldn’t hesitate for a second before signing away freedoms like gambling simply because they don’t personally do it and, therefore, don’t care. In fact, by clamoring to legalize vices like gambling, you’re trying to take advantage of America’s tolerant nature. Shame on you.

  10. #10 |  Joe | 

    Nice view.

    I was in New York recently and some British tourist mentioned to me casually he was suprised by the lack of swimming pools on the tops of New York buildings. That is true, very few New York City buildings have swimming pools on their roofs (although there are a fair number of roofs coverted into patios and gardens). The reason is probably obivous, swimming pools filled with water weigh a lot and it is expensive to put one on a roof (especially after the fact).

    For some reason I have remembered that comment and I cannot recall seeing lots of swimming pools on tops of London buildings (or buildings in Rome, Paris, or anywhere in Europe). While I liked that Singapore building with the infinite scary roof top pool that was recently making the rounds on the blogs, I do not recall a lot of roof pools in tropical Singapore either.

    I will just throw that out there.

  11. #11 |  Charlie O | 

    We. Can’t. Ban. Jodie. Foster? NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  12. #12 |  jppatter | 


    It’s too bad there’s no way to ensure that all voters on the issue have read the debate before posting. A lot of people just read oh, it’s pro gambling and vote against Radley without any actual thought or reading.

    Kind of like how people vote in actual elections.

  13. #13 |  awp | 


    I think you won the debate primarily because you were the only one actually debating. Les on the other hand didn’t really respond to any of your points just continued repeating his own even when you directly responded to them. His new stupidity in his closing arguments is this though

    “No sip of a Bass Ale has ever offered the false promise of life-changing jackpots.”

    No it just offers the surety of getting to drink an enjoyable beer. (I actually have never had a Bass Ale, but still)

    “Although it (gambling) creates no output, gambling does nevertheless absorb time and resources.”

    This is true of any recreational activity, so we should outlaw beaches because going to the beach consumes time and resources without creating output.

    The best measure of the value of something is the prices we are willing to pay. If I am willing to “give us $25, $30 five times a week” it must be because I believe that is the best use of the $25 for me. In as much as there was anything else that gave me more enjoyment for the same price, I would do that.

    This is exactly how I look at poker, our normal $20 buy in, plus $10 dollars for some beer normally provides 3-4 hours of entertainment. On most nights when we can get the group together their is no option that comes even close to providing the enjoyment value that Poker night provides.

  14. #14 |  TravisP | 

    Wow, some of the vitriolic comments about Mr. Bernal really surprise me. I’m an ardent Agitatorist, and I do think that Mr. Bernal made some rather ad hominem points, but I really liked the way he summed up the last piece. By turning it into a morality problem (on a vice issue, imagine that) for the country as a whole, he simply states that this is not an activity that benefits the country. Radly made some excellent points for the termination of its prohibition, but where’s the compelling case that this is a valuable use for your time and money? The “I want to do it” argument works with my 5 month old daughter, but we ARE talking about adults here, right?Used to be you had Vegas and Atlantic City, but now they’re everywhere, and more and more people are choosing to blow however much (the value isn’t really the question) money in casinos. Is that culture one worth promoting?If the point is government resources, pro or con, let’s get the government out of all of it. I wholly agree that the jack-booted thugs need to stay out of kitchen poker games, but as long as state governments are taking “sucker bets” with lotteries and giving tax incentives for companies to build casinos in their states, well, they’ve got the decked stacked in their favor on both sides. But you know what they say, the house always wins.And one other comment about your summary, Radly. I absolutely loathe these kinds of arguments: “If you’re going to argue that we should prohibit gambling because problem gamblers might go into debt, causing hardship on their families, or requiring them to seek publicly funded social services or welfare, you could make similar arguments for banning everything from unprotected sex, to laying on the beach, to rock climbing, to investment banking, to pie.”I get your point, and I whole heartedly agree with it, but the knuckle dragging troglodytes that disagree with you don’t read this and think their gambling position is indefensible, they read it and think, “hmm, maybe we should ban rock climbing and pie.” I just don’t appreciate the careless argument, and I hate to give the pie-banners any more ammunition.

  15. #15 |  Laura Victoria | 

    This is the first time I read any of the debate points. When Les started going on about government owned gambling, I thought the issue was entirely different than the one being debated. I was like, I kinda doubt Radley would be advocating that one.

    Loved the Jodie Foster analogy and the Kristofferson pun.

    Radley was winning 53-47 percent when I voted just now

  16. #16 |  Big Chief | 

    Wow, that was pathetic. If I was anti-gambling I’d be pretty upset with Les and the Economist right now. There have to be better arguments than what Les put out there and it certainly would have been nice to do some actual rebuttals of Radley’s last two posts rather than just restating the same discredited garbage. Truly pathetic. And I hope the Economist does a better job of picking contributors in the future. I would love to know if Les thinks there is such a thing as “non-predatory gambling”.

    I didn’t come away from reading that exchange with anything worthwhile from the anti side, which I find very disappointing. But the Jodi Foster comment and the Kristofferson pun did at least made me feel good about the time I spent. Good job, Radley.

  17. #17 |  Rajesh | 

    I’m torn how to vote. On the one hand I do not support the ridiculous restrictions on Gambling that the US has or the even more absurd restrictions your opponent supports.
    On the other hand the motion is” This house believes there should be no legal restrictions on gambling”. I do support some minor restrictions such as not allowing minors to gamble.

    I’ll probably not vote as I don’t want to support Bernal’s position.

  18. #18 |  djm | 

    I think Les has really dropped the ball here. As the negative he controls the extent of his opposition. He could have argued for some restrictions to control the worst effects of gambling, while leaving the vast majority free to enjoy themselves. Incidentally, I actually think that stopping these worst forms is a noble goal, although I would suggest that the treatment should be similar to that of alcoholics – a non-criminal process involving support of family, friends, and community, rather than through the law.

    But Les doesn’t do anything like this. Instead, he’s all over the place, pointing out that gambling doesn’t add to the economy (like any recreational activity), or that casinos present their product in a way designed to induce consumption (fancy that!). And he ends with the fascio-nannyist euphanism that we should love our neighbour like ourself. Translation: let the state make your decisions for you, because you can’t.

    I couldn’t get into Les’ website, because my work bans gambling sites (insert irony here). But my suspicion is that this is the gaming equivalent of MADD, which started off as a noble cause against the worst effects of alcohol, and then turned it into a crusade against drinking altogether. Remember when MADD complained about the beer meeting at the White House because “it sends the wrong message,” despite the fact that two had drivers and Obama was, uh, already at home? If people like Les have their way, he’ll rail against Obama betting a beer on the outcome of the hockey game, because “it sends the wrong message.”

  19. #19 |  Gary | 

    I found that entire debate very frustrating because it felt like Radley and Les were arguing two completely separate things. Radley feels that gambling should be completely legal (I agree!) and Les feels that state lotteries and big casinos are predatory (I agree to some extent). However, I am not exactly sure what Les wants to do about the issue.

    Does he:

    1) Want the government to stop raising revenue via direct gambling, i.e. lottos? I don’t think Radley would have a problem with that.

    2) Want the government to stop granting monopoly rights and tax breaks to large casino owners to lure them into their area? I don’t think Radley would have a problem with that, either.

    3) Want the police to continue prosecuting small scale gambling where there is no “house”? I am really curious as to what Les’ position is here. He’s stated numerous times that it “isn’t the issue” but he doesn’t state his position.

    4) Want to continue the ban on Internet gambling? I think he does, but I don’t remember him saying that.

    Points (1) and (2) deal with the government actively supporting and subsidizing large scale gambling. Points (3) and (4) deal with the *prohibition* of gambling. Those are two very different things.

    It’s not very hard to make an argument that the government shouldn’t be actively supporting and subsidizing government. You can take two approaches, either show that it’s none of the government’s business either way, or show that the activity is harmful so even if it is the government’s business, the right thing to do is not support it. Since this isn’t a very hard argument, and it’s something many Libertarians agree with, this is what Les focuses on.

    It’s much harder to make an argument that people should be forcibly jailed for engaging in said activity. Since this argument is very hard to make, Les avoids it completely. Unfortunately, this is what the debate was supposed to be about.

  20. #20 |  Gary | 

    Meant to say “It’s not very hard to make an argument that the government shouldn’t be actively supporting and subsidizing gambling” in #19.

  21. #21 |  Mattocracy | 

    @ TravisP,

    You really liked how he summed it up at the end? Gambling doesn’t benefit the country as a whole? Lot’s of things we don’t benefite the country. Honestly, the knuckle dragging troglodytes of this world can use that as a justification to outlaw everything, much more than using Radley’s examples. There’s such hypocrisy in your post. Further, who do you think you are insenuating that my activities should have to benefit the country in some manner? That should never be a consideration in a free society.

    So what if it isn’t a valuable use of time and money…for you. Because that’s really what you’re saying here. This activity isn’t a valuable activity for you, therefore no body else. You are passing off your opinion as fact, a very nanny-state thing to do.

    It’s a valuable use of time and money for the people engaged in it, either for the sake of entertainment or whatever utility they get from it.

  22. #22 |  TravisP | 

    Yeah, I was waiting for that. What I was trying to say was that 1) Radley did a good job justifying to me why the government shouldn’t waste its time and resources banning gambling and 2) Les did a good job explaining why gambling isn’t a good use of your time and money.

    What I didn’t see from Radley was why gambling is a great activity, leisure or otherwise, nor did Les convince me LEO should be cracking down on “illegal” gambling. There’s a chasm between those two agreements. I will inexorably come down on the “leave people alone” side of any prohibition argument, but the point I felt Les raised was “is this what you want to be doing with yourself?” Of course it’s not the government’s job to answer that question, and dare I say if you think that’s was Les’ point, you need to read his posts again. And of course there are million things you can do with your free time that are just as wasteful as gambling. That’s not the point. There are million more that aren’t, and you might find a couple if you weren’t at the casino.

    For example, let’s say you just told your best friend “my son just won the World Series. . . of poker.” Wouldn’t you be just a little more proud of him before you said the last two words?

    But again, the house (government) is always going to win as long as they get money to promote it and money to stop it. Take them out of the picture and let people do what they want.

  23. #23 |  Gary | 

    @ 22:

    First of all, I’d be thrilled if my kid won the World Series of Poker. Texas Hold ‘Em takes a tremendous amount of skill.

    Secondly, Radley does not need to prove in any way, shape or form, that gambling is a great activity. That’s not how freedom works. If you are only “free” to do “great activities” then you aren’t free because you don’t have the option of doing anything else. To be free is to be ABLE to purposely engage in activities that others find useless or even harmful. The onus is on Radley’s opponent who needs to justify why gambling is so bad that we should forcibly imprison people who engage in it.

    Third, I read all of Les’ points and although he doesn’t SAY he wants the government to tell us what to do with our time, that’s only because he cleverly avoids directly engaging the question. The debate was about whether or not there should be restrictions to gambling. Les represents a group that actively supports making/keeping gambling illegal, but yet in a debate about the legality of gambling Les doesn’t bother defending that position. He instead defends the much more easily defensible position that “gambling can cause harm” and lets it remain unspoken that “therefore I support making it illegal”.

    I suspect that this is a form of logical fallacy, perhaps a “reverse straw man”; to declare a position and then switch it with a much more easily defensible position with the unspoken implication that a successful defense of the easier position amounts to proof of the harder to defend position.

  24. #24 |  Wesley | 

    Gary @22:

    It is a fallacy, but an even more basic one than that. Les’s argument is one big non-sequitur, because it does not follow from “gambling can cause harm” to “gambling should be prohibitively regulated.”

    He does also beat up a couple of strawmen in the false dichotomy that he set up where the opposing side is supporting the government “actively supporting predatory gambling.” Note that he doesn’t ever define his terms about what that really means (beyond “casinos are bad!” and “their advertising and services are geared towards emotions!” — as if that’s some sort of otherwise-unheard-of characteristic of lotteries and casinos).

  25. #25 |  Nick | 

    Normally I vote for those who ask least for it.
    You asked too hard.
    I’ll sit this one out.

  26. #26 |  expat | 

    I can’t help but wonder if easing the restrictions on gambling will correct many of the things that Mr. Bernal mentions as the evils of gambling. Increased competition means more choices, which probably means that the casinos that are making their profits from 10% of their customers are going to have to do more to hang on to those 10%. Ultimately, the casinos would end up having to offer better odds of winning or more value for the time people spend in their casinos.

  27. #27 |  MikeZ | 

    “Normally I vote for those who ask least for it.
    You asked too hard.
    I’ll sit this one out”

    I could see that as a potentially good rule of thumb to prevent whining, but as Gary #22 points out, Les never asked for it, He never actually said he wanted the government to restrict gambling, just that he wanted government out of the gambling buisness (which most would agree with). So with nobody appearing to argue for the no vote your rule of thumb doesn’t really seem applicable.

  28. #28 |  MikeZ | 

    Seems like Radley definitely has the night owl vote. He always seems to gain a few points during the night and slowly slips back down during the day.

  29. #29 |  Lifewish | 

    Argh, what is Bernal’s obsession with the word “predatory”?

    Predatory gambling is using gambling to prey on human weakness for profit.

    You could say the same about the restaurant next door to me:

    Predatory [cooking] is using [cooking] to prey on human weakness for profit.

    Their grill is damn good, and as a result they get a lot of my money. And my parents’ money, for that matter, and my friends’ – I’m a “social steaker”. I enjoy their sirloins to the point of addiction (especially with the bbq and bourbon sauce… mmm… argh, must focus). Clearly these people are predatory restauranteurs.

    But does that mean the govt should send in an armed response unit to shoot the place up? I bloody well hope not.