Gambling with society's well-being

John Forelli, vice president of information technology at the Borgata in Atlantic City, demonstrates a slot machine game that can be played from your hotel room, just another temptation for gamblers.PHOTOS: CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER; ASSOCIATED PRESS

It took Alicia Keys 2 minutes, 36 seconds to butcher the national anthem before the Super Bowl. There are farmers who can butcher a hog in 2 minutes, 36 seconds and have time left over to set six strips of bacon sizzling in the skillet.

If you bet "over" 2:05, you won from here to New

Orleans. There's a sucker born in America every 24 seconds. A proposition bet on the length of the

anthem is all the evidence you need.

You want a second opinion? Take the prop on how many total hats the Harbaugh brothers would wear on the sidelines, none, one, two?

Suppose, just suppose, Keys had a cousin named Francis Scott. Yo, it's possible. His company downsized and he's been unemployed for months. He calls, asks about her approach to the anthem and she talks wistfully about Al Green's indoor record of 2:26, so he gets his scrawny butt to Vegas and pounds the "over."

Same with the Harbaughs. Out-of-work cousin named Louie asks innocently enough whether Jim or John intend to wear baseball caps indoors and bets accordingly. Vegas won't let you wager on elections or beauty contests, but they approve ridiculous, easily manipulated prop bets.

Why not? Gamblers never squawk, they're too busy trying to get even. Which explains "Monday Night Football." State governments run a lottery in which the daily three-digit number pays off at 500-to-1 when it's really a 1,000-to-1 proposition. Some states double their pleasure, offering an afternoon number and a nighttime number.

What does that British outfit have in mind? The one the governor of Pennsylvania chose to run the lottery. Camelot (that's the name of the outfit; would I make that up?) is willing to post a huge guarantee that it will increase revenues.

What will they do, draw a three-digit number every 6 hours? Put a lottery machine in every checkout lane in every SuperFresh? Offer a toothbrush with a gadget that lets you play keno every morning in your pajamas, in your bathroom?

Yo, down the shore, the Borgata now offers in-room gambling gadgets. Sit there in your BVDs and play video poker. It's the start of something huge, online gambling on anything, anywhere. Irrefutable evidence that, indeed, we are going to hell in a handbasket.

Philadelphia needs another casino the way it needs another outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. Yet six groups of rich, intelligent men who would like to be a lot richer, and should be a lot smarter, made their apple-pie-in-the-sky pitch for a casino license recently. (Let the record show that about a week later, Revel, A.C.'s newest joint, announced it will file for bankruptcy.)

The alligator in the room, barely mentioned: Make it easier to gamble, and more people will gamble. More money diverted from food, clothing, shelter, Phillies tickets. More crime, more busted marriages, more misery, more treatment for addicts.

If they insist on creating another Philadelphia casino, even if it cuts into the profits of Parx, SugarHouse and Harrah's, they might want to put the thing next door to the Convention Center. Make it easy for those dentists from Davenport, Iowa, in town for a convention, to lose their money.

Oh, yeah, and the governor wants to privatize the liquor stores. Make it easier to buy booze, offer beer in the supermarkets, cut down on that traffic to Delaware or Jersey to buy exotic wines at shorter prices. Make it easier to drink, and more people will drink. More money diverted from food, clothing, shelter, Eagles tickets. More drunken drivers on the roads, more misery.

The lottery is a tax on the poor to help the elderly. The increased revenue from competitive liquor stores is ticketed for schools, and what sort of message does that send? Don't think, just drink.

And now the heavyweight governor of New Jersey wants to rescue wobbly casinos by allowing them to book bets on sports. Ignore the bleating of the NFL; this actually would be a good thing for pro football. The legal bookies would spot one-sided action sooner and blow the whistle on suspicious patterns that might indicate hanky-panky.

We were able to put a man on the moon, but we can't figure out how to take care of our kids, our poor, our elderly without encouraging more gambling, more drinking. Only in America!