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The Institute for American Values is hosting an event  at their New York offices on April 26 exploring the psychology of casinos (with the aid of a neurobiologist!) and the rapid proliferation of the American gaming industry in general. Several months ago they also launched a website dedicated to the issue.

The proliferation of gambling (all or most of it state-backed, it should be noted) has indeed been one of those quiet changes to the American landscape that is too little noticed or discussed. Twenty or thirty years ago, it was virtually impossible to find legalized gambling outside a few name-brand locales like Las Vegas or Atlantic City. These days, especially with states facing repeated budgetary shortfalls, legalizing gambling has become a go-to remedy. Granted, there’s nothing morally objectionable about gambling in and of itself, and its importance does not rank alongside other cultural issues like marriage or the protection of life. But rather than dismiss opposition to this trend as another Puritanical crusade, the apathetic would do well to look into the social, economic, and moral costs of legitimating gambling on a wide scale, especially since “wide scale” tends to end up meaning “in impoverished areas.”

If you’ve ever taken a train between New York and Washington, DC, for example, it’s impossible to miss a gigantic Harrah’s casino—recently sprouted—in Chester, PA, a beat-up town just south of Philadelphia marked by abandoned rowhouses and crumbling industrial buildings. As the IAV website points out, this, like many of the latest-generation casinos, are not glamorous resorts designed for vacationers indulging in occasional carousal. They’re sad warehouses that prey on the already-vulnerable, trafficking in low rollers and repeat users. And, given the impetus behind their creation, they wind up functioning as a new tax on the already-poor—something both sides of the political spectrum might find worrying.

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