The game is a finicky game


Suppose I tell you that I spend a lot of time bidding in hopes of winning a contract.

You might think I was a construction engineer, planning to cash in on the heavy contribution I made to the mayoral re-election campaign. If you’re of a darker mind, you might suspect that I do moonlighting work as a hitman for the Mafia.

But, no, I’m just an old man playing bridge, spending Wednesday afternoons with other hissing brats hiding smiles over secret hordes of trumps and brooding glumly over other evidence that this sad old world is nowhere near the way it was, by God.

Oh, once I was a rebel. An outlaw. A renegade who disdained societal norms, a malcontent heretic who thumbed his nose at authority.

I played poker.

Oh, not often. Just occasionally in the college cafeteria, in the army barracks, with co-workers in someone’s family room. And not for much. We called them nickel-dime-quarter games (which inflation, even then, forced us to rename “penny-ante games”). There was usually a limit of three raises, table bets often exceeded $20, and you might end up winning or losing enough for lunch the next day.

Yet we skirted the boundaries of acceptable behavior and flirted with disaster by flouting the law. Luckily I stopped before I got caught.

Because we all know what Indiana lawmakers think about gambling.

They hate her with every fiber of their being, hating the way she preys on human weakness, tempts the desperate poor with hopeless dreams of wealth, destroys the very moral foundations of a decent society.

Or a handful of them are still brooding glumly, just before they vote with the majority to, you know, increase state involvement in organized gambling again.

According to figures released in June, Indiana collected $689 million in gambling tax revenue in the 2021-22 fiscal year. The state’s casinos contributed, but much of the revenue came from the relatively new sports betting operations, which tempted Hoosiers to make more than $4.43 billion in wagers for the fiscal year. Indiana’s Hoosier Lottery will bring $334 million to state coffers this year. If the state also allows online casino gambling, studies show it could add an additional $469 million per year.

Billions and billions bet by Hoosiers, and the numbers will continue to grow.

You still have to draw lines.

Poker is a card game defined by the state as a “game of chance”, which means it is illegal unless sanctioned by the state. If you play one of these $20 family room games, you could be convicted of a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and 180 days in jail. If you host the game and take a small percentage of, say, every fifth pot as reimbursement for the refreshments you provided, that could be a class D felony. But let’s not go there.

Oh, and those football and basketball pools you bet on at the office? Also illegal. Ditto the game of bingo organized by your church, unless it is approved by the state, a permit is obtained, a fee is paid and the rules are strictly observed (no prize greater than 1,000 $). Penalties may be imposed at $5,000 per violation.

It seems unlikely that Indiana prosecutors would tackle such petty crimes, and we can imagine they would laugh at the court if they did. But the fact is, they could if they wanted to. The law is there, in direct contradiction to the way the state actually operates today, and providing direct evidence of the high morality lawmakers have abandoned.

The law is a jerk.

Charles Dickens was not the first author to write this, but its use in Oliver Twist made it famous, in a man’s lamentation exasperated that he could be accused of a crime committed by his wife , and that he was told that he was even the most culpable because “the law assumes that your wife is acting under your direction”.

At least legislators can be donkeys, especially when they lose the right to lecture us about right and wrong.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is the winner of the Hoosier Press Association award for best columnist. Morris, as an opinion writer for the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at [email protected]

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