Colorado has a gambling problem. The problem is that it is illegal. That is, it is illegal unless you run a politically approved gambling house in a politically approved gambling town, or if you help run the state’s own gambling ring (“Don’t Forget to Play”). Then gambling is perfectly fine with the authorities. But, other than that, it is illegal. Because, you know, we wouldn’t want the laws to be anything other than completely hypocritical.
Gambling does not inherently violate anybody’s rights, and thus the government has no legitimate business outlawing it. However, illegal gambling is necessarily run by criminals. It turns out that incentivizing criminals to run gambling rings is a pretty stupid idea, because criminals often do a poor job of it. If we outlawed cigarettes, those would be sold by criminals, too, rather than at the local grocery store. Even though gambling itself violates no rights, criminals who run illegal gambling operations often figure out ways to break legitimate laws in the process.
Turning gambling into a crime, then, generates real crimes, and it also wastes precious tax resources on enforcement. If gambling were legal, it would be safe and easily monitored.
If gambling were legal, would some idiots with mouths to feed lose their shirts — and their grocery funds — playing games? Yes, they would. But living in a free society means that people have the right to act stupid. Some people lose their shirts even when gambling is illegal. Some people will act like morons no matter what the law says. But consenting adults have the right to gamble, whether they do so responsibly or irresponsibly. At the same time, spouses of irresponsible gamblers have the right to file for divorce, and friends of irresponsible gamblers have the right to exhort them to better behavior. If people want to voluntarily fund anti-gambling messages or programs, that too is their right.
Colorado authorities have busted two illegal gambling rings, one just this week and one in 2008.
Kieran Nicholson of the Denver Post reports, “A tavern owner in Colorado Springs has been arrested for running illegal poker games for cash in his bar, police said. … The raid was a culmination of a three-month investigation by the liquor-enforcement unit of the police department.”
They have a “liquor-enforcement unit?” That busts illegal gambling rings? So let me get this straight: residents of Colorado Springs would rather pay taxes for cops to bust players of games than, say, investigate auto thieves and violent criminals. Huh.
But that’s the little story. The Big Story involves famous names — “top Denver names [!],” the Post assures us, including “2 former Broncos [!!],” 9News gushes, so that’s way better for selling newspapers and television advertisements. (Tom McGhee of the Post joined Deborah Sherman of 9News to report the story.)
By the Post’s account, the operators of the ring were true bastards who (allegedly) broke legitimate laws:
Nobody brought money to the table. Instead, gamblers played on the book, an arrangement that let them settle up with the house at the end of the game. …
[Jeffrey] Castardi was also putting money on the street in loans, registering the outlays in a book and mercilessly dunning his debtors, according to the indictment.
Those who borrowed, or couldn’t pay back the house after a night of cards, paid a steep price — 5 percent interest per week or more, authorities said.
One of those players was Eric Cox, whose wife, Cathy Lopez, found his cellphone near the spot where he killed himself. There were numerous text messages — some threatening, and some sent on the day he died — from Castardi and Daniel Rieke, who is also named in the indictment.
9News adds that the operation also allegedly employed “theft, forgery, [and] fraud,” according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Obviously, this could never happen with a legal gambling operation. The government properly protects against theft and fraud as a matter of protecting rights. As for the collection tactics, if you don’t pay your credit card companies, they don’t send out Guido to break your legs or anything like that. Instead, such matters are settled in court. No legal gambling operation would front players serious money they couldn’t cover, because the risk of loss would be very high.
So employees of CBI, the attorney general’s office, “the Denver Police Department, [and] the Colorado Department of Revenue” can round-robin back-slap all they want. The fact remains that they are spending tax dollars to “solve” problems created largely by the very laws they are paid to enforce. But, hey, it’s great business, for criminals, cops, and media alike.