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Wednesday, September 27, 2023
HomeOpinionEditorialAS WE SEE IT: You can’t legislate morality

AS WE SEE IT: You can’t legislate morality

Gambling can be a terrible addiction. Like all addictions, it doesn’t just impact the individual placing the bets, it can impact their partners, their children, and every other member of their family and friend groups. I’ve seen firsthand the negative impacts of addiction on people I love – both the addicts and the others in their sphere. So, I understand why so many opposed the recent passage of sports betting in Kentucky.

But, if I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that you can’t legislate morality.

If you could, we wouldn’t have any drug addicts today.

If you could, Prohibition would have eliminated the problems of alcoholism.

If you could, we wouldn’t have child abuse and neglect.

You can penalize people for breaking the law. You can enact punitive measures. You can maybe even scare some folks into not giving in to their urges – or into being especially sneaky and surreptitious when they do.

But you can’t pass a law that forces people to do the right thing; and that includes preventing them from engaging in irresponsible gambling.

The best you can do is punish them when they are caught, but that doesn’t undo the damage done.

So, while I am not a gambler, and I don’t support anyone gambling, I do support the recently passed sports betting bill.

I’d have supported it anyway, on the ideological grounds I’ve already laid out and my personal belief that while punishment may sometimes be necessary, the fear of it isn’t sufficient deterrent to stop crime in most cases.

What makes this bill even easier to support, though, is a provision that earmarks a portion of the proceeds from legal betting towards the treatment of gambling addictions.

Admittedly it’s not much. House Bill 486 earmarks just 0.1% of all money wagered, not to exceed half a million dollars, for the state’s problem gambling assistance fund. But that’s up to $500,000 per wager more than the state was receiving for treatment before moving to legalize and regulate the activities.

The moves also set rules for taxes paid on any income generated through gambling, and deductions allowed from those winnings based on previous losses, and is expected to bring in more than $20 million in the first year which, after covering administrative costs for regulation, will be used to shore up the state’s floundering pension funds. (Those projected numbers are based on earnings in neighboring Tennessee, which brings in significantly more with legalized gambling, but has a larger population and a higher tax rate than Kentucky, which set theirs at 9.75%.)

For sportsbooks, the in person betting tax rate is 9.75%, while that for online sportsbooks – who presumedly have less overhead – is 14.25%.

It’s a high tax rate, but legalized gambling has the potential to earn bookmakers a lot of money.

Actually, let me rephrase that – sports gambling has already been earning illicit bookmakers a lot of money in the state. Legalization just cuts the state pension fund in on the bounty and it means sportsbooks have to abide by rules instead of operating in the dark.

It still isn’t ideal. I wish everyone could simply enjoy sports without placing bets.

But you can’t legislate morality.

The best you can do is regulate the activities, try to keep participants safe, and use the funds earned for more noble purposes.

I, for one, think the pension funds that support our various state employees fits that bill.

It isn’t like we haven’t made this sort of proverbial “deal with the devil” before.

The state lottery – which no matter how you spin it is a form of legalized gambling as well, not much different in form than the numbers games of organized crime – contributes millions each year for education funding.

The Kentucky Lottery estimates they have contributed over $4.4 billion towards Kentucky education to fund student finacial aid and merit based scholarships.

The lottery has already normalized gambling among a group of people who would have never considered playing the old numbers games or high stakes poker. There is the real chance that legalizing sports betting could have the same effect.

That does worry me.

But if we can’t force people not to gamble anyway, we might as well do some good with the money it generates.



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