Let My Gamblers Smoke
© Jack Cashill
n a rare moment of celestial alignment, I found myself agreeing with the corethesis of a column written by The Kansas City Star’s Mike Hendricks—”Hypocrisy, like cigarette smoke, fills the air.”
Yes, Mike, it is wrong that casinos should be exempt from the smoking bans imposed in Kansas City and in the state of Kansas.
For politically active nannies, and they are legion, second-hand tobacco smoke is the indoor equivalent of global warming: a cause for alarm, if not hysteria, and a ready rationale for the suspension of rights.
Given a premise this scary, Hendricks speaks truth to power when he points out the hypocrisy of a smoking ban in every indoor public place except for casinos. If legislators, city or state, believe second-hand smoke to be lethal, and they believe that the state has the right to regulate it, it seems downright criminal to exempt a favored industry from the ban.
Hendricks, however, does not identify with these Chicken Little legislators. He sees himself instead as something of a libertarian. He argues, for instance, “People have the right to kill themselves in whatever way they see fit.”
As means to that end, Hendricks cites the newsroom favorites of “booze, tobacco, drugs or french fries.” True, he adds, that “a line is crossed when your bad habit infringes on the rights of others,” but even this caveat would not get him bounced from a Ron Paul revival.
In sum, as Hendricks sees it, people have the right to kill themselves. Second-hand smoke is, by his lights, a known killer. So by this logic, if people want to kill themselves by gambling in smoke-filled casinos, let them have at it.
Hendricks’ train of thought, alas, derails before he reaches the natural end of his own syllogism. Despite his libertarian premises, he reaches the totalitarian conclusion, “That’s why a casino smoking ban makes sense.”
No, Mike, the argument makes no sense unless you elevate gambling in a smoke-free environment to the status of a “right.” Rights are things people die for. At no time in recorded history has an angry citizenry stormed a Bastille to protect the right to play slots in a smoke-free room. No, this is not a right; it is a crabby little whim. The right to work in a smoke-free gambling den is even crabbier.
If Hendricks were the sole proponent of such obvious doublethink, it would not be an issue, but he represents something of a popular norm. Local legislatures, state and city, are composed almost exclusively of Chicken Littles and the faux libertarians who enable them. They continually grease their intrusions into personal liberty, as Hendricks does, with bullying and bad logic.
In a free market, entrepreneurs open bars and restaurants and allow natural demand or their own ideology to determine whether smoking will be permitted. But there is nothing “free” about the gaming industry. Like it or not, casinos are creatures of the state. Next to the listing for “crony capitalism” in the Oxford English Dictionary is a picture from the last gaming lobbyist/legislator campfire and sing-along.
From the moment the gaming industry set its sights on Missouri, its founding fathers were busy buying every key person in the state they could not bamboozle. The “bought” included a whole parcel of Kansas City preachers as well as the speaker of the Missouri House, Bob Griffin.
Had not Bill Clinton pardoned international scofflaw and Southwest High alum, Marc Rich, on the same day he commuted Griffin’s 4-year prison sentence, we might still be talking about “the Griffin commutation scandal.”
Then too, the gradual manipulation of the law has left the state with a string of “riverboats” no more seaworthy than the Oak Park Mall. Worse, these windowless wonders are strung out along the Missouri, where they do the state’s sinking downtowns the opposite of good.
Had the industry been honest about its intentions in the beginning—silly me, I fell for the “riverboat” ads—the Missouri legislature could have limited casinos construction to the places where they actually made sense, namely specified areas in or near the otherwise obsolete downtowns of St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and St. Joseph.
Build a couple of casinos in downtown Kansas City, and we would never have needed the painfully subsidized Power & Light District. Better still, Kansas City’s poor would not have to badger their friends for rides to out-of-the-way riverboats. Thinking green here, they could just hop on the Metro and squander the family fortune before the kids get home from school.
For all the bad politics and the worse logic that has led us into this unholy mess, it may not be too late to finesse a way out. We begin by accepting Hendricks’ argument that the smoking status quo is unfair. Yes, it is preposterously and inarguably unfair.
We next accept his premise that “the rights of others,” as Hendricks puts it, include gambling in a smoke-free room. This, of course, trivializes the concept of a “right,” but we will buy it in the spirit of compromise.
Then, we give casino owners a choice. Either ban smoking in the existing casinos or open smoke-free satellite casinos in a designated downtown. They will likely opt for the latter. The satellites should prove popular, especially among the convention crowds.
Now we address a deeper inequity. In the space of a year or two, Kansas City created a subsidized entertainment district to compete with its tax-paying bars and restaurants and then banned smoking in those already suffering establishments.
The same City Council that gave out tax subsidies banned the smoking. Its members apparently believed subsidies to be good and smoking to be bad. So, henceforth, any bar that accepts a subsidy must also ban smoking.
Conversely, any bar or restaurant that operates without the help of tax subsidy may choose to allow smoking or not as its owner sees fit.
Finally, to complete the rehabilitation of Downtown and to reward the tax-paying bar and restaurant owners of good standing, we allow them to compete for gambling licenses Downtown—as long, of course, as they don’t allow smoking.
Isn’t it helpful when government gets involved in business?
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