How government got involved in gambling

Note: Proving once again that you never know what you’re going to get from Mike Caro or, this classic article first appeared in Casino Player magazine and versions have subsequently been published in Gambling Times magazine, Poker Player newspaper, and elsewhere. Believe it or not, this history lesson has stimulated scholarly discussion.

How government got involved in gambling

Let’s go way back in time. We’re early humans. There are just four of us in the whole known world, you and I and two unattractive women. It kind of sucks, but that’s how it is.

Sometimes we sit down and talk about how things should happen. We decide that each day you should go find some logs and bring them back to the cave. I’ll rub sticks together and start the fire. Tammy will cook and Mary will wash the dishes. Occasionally we use paper plates, but this is back toward the beginning of history, there are only four of us, and paper plates are very expensive, so usually we use porcelain.

Anyway, the point is that we don’t really need a government. We’re going to agree to procedures that make us comfortable. Sometimes we’re going to get irritated and yell at each other, but we’ll work stuff out.

A corner of the cave

Each night you and I go to a corner of the cave to gamble. At first, we bet on how many days in a row the sun will rise, but I always take the overs and you always lose. So we start betting on more random-seeming events, such as how many thunder claps we’ll hear before the fire goes out. The loser has to do a chore for the winner.

Pretty soon, Tammy and Mary decide to play, too, because there’s nothing very interesting on television. Just outdoor hunting and fishing stuff. No Oprah or soap operas to stimulate their minds. This goes on for years. Gambling becomes more and more important to us as a diversion.

Now, here’s where it gets strange. One day six nomads come to our cave. We’re stunned. We thought the four of us were alone in the world. Now there are 10 humans. You sit down and work out a theoretical formula suggesting that if there are 10 humans we know about, perhaps the world might be populated by as many as 100. I’m the only one who takes your theory seriously, however.

Meanwhile, we’re finding that it’s much harder to keep track of who’s supposed to do which chores with 10 people. Note that all of these are adults, because the concept of children hasn’t been invented yet. Days pass. There are more and more squabbles. The quality of life has deteriorated. Now what?

Well, we decide that someone has to take charge. You nominate me, but in a shocking vote, one of the newcomers is chosen to be our leader. On the very next day, 90 more humans show up at our cave door, including 40 children. The concept of children overwhelms us and our leader decrees that no gambling shall occur in front of them, because they’re too young to understand.

Gambling behind the barrier

We don’t fully grasp the purpose of the decree, but it’s no big deal. We build a rock barrier to keep the kids away from the corner where we gamble. Soon after that, there’s a murder. We’re appalled. Our population has shrunk from 100 to 99 for no sensible reason at all. We build a jail in another corner of the cave and put the killer in it.

This makes sense to us. Now we realize we need laws and more people to help us govern. It happens quickly. There are laws against stealing and killing and tickling each other without permission – laws we didn’t need when there were only a few of us.

And then, on the gloomiest night in world history, our leader decrees that henceforth there will be no more gambling. “How come?” fifty of us protest in unison.

“It’s not in the best interest of the community,” our leader explains cryptically.

“But nobody’s forcing anyone to gamble,” I argue.

‘Besides,” you add, “what business is it of yours? You’re supposed to help protect us so that we’re free to do what makes us happy. Now you’re making us unhappy. Whatever gave you the idea that you could tell us whether or not we could gamble?”

And then our leader ponders. And there is a lingering quiet. All 97 men, women, and children who are free and not jailed and not the leader wait for the answer. Time passes. More time passes. The silence stretches, surviving for moment after moment. Still no answer is forthcoming, and eventually the leader leaves the cave to smoke a cigarette and to be by himself. When he returns, everyone is sleeping.

My friends, I have just told you the real history of gambling legislation. Everything else you have ever heard is a lie. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


4 thoughts on “How government got involved in gambling”

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  1. Same story as above except the leader and his best friends decided that if they taxed gambling they could have things for free….make the others work for them and thus government evolved

  2. It still baffles me why we allow the government to tell us what we can and cannot do with our money and our gambling habits, while they still have yet to prosecute any bankers or mutual fund managers in the biggest financial rip off of all time, the financial melt down of 2008!

  3. Maybe they should ban the stock market too, and jail those involved in running it, Oh wait, its legit, nobody has lost their whole life savings on Wall Street.

  4. Like the history lesson. There is always someone who belives they “know beter” and unfortunately there are always some who will believe the “know-it-all.”

    But now,how do we get the government out of the business of regulating (well let’s just take a little step…) how do we get the government out of the business of regulating poker? Let ’em have the rest of gambling, but poker is a players game not a casino game and there is no need to regulate poker…(And if winers don’t report and pay their taxes on winnings, that’s between them and the government but get the government out of the poker rooms.)

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