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GUEST COLUMN

On-line gambling: don't bet the farm

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Cartoon by Matson

The Wire Act of 1961 has always left states feeling handcuffed, keelhauled, drawn and quartered, subjected to a Pauly Shore movie marathon...

But no more. The U.S. Justice Department has reversed decades of practice and decided that the law does NOT bar states from permitting on-line gambling (as long as the gambling does not involved sports events).

State-sanctioned internet lotteries, poker games and the like are set to explode; but this is troubling on so many levels.

For one thing, if the revenue maneuver is successful, reporters will have to come up with new clich├ęs. "Cash-strapped states" won't be accurate anymore. And "comfortable, let's just say I'm comfortable states" just doesn't have that ring.

It will cost states a fortune to revise state nicknames to reflect their renewed zeal for balancing budgets on the backs of those least able to afford it. You know the new nicknames: Land of the Midnight Repo Man, The Hoosier Co-signer? State, The Show-Me The Baby's Milk Money State, The Sooner (Or Later You'll Get Some Wages I Can Garnish) State and The Land Of People Living In A Van Down By The 10,000 Lakes.

Don't get me started on the revised state mottos, such as New Hampshire's "Live Free Or Die Addicted To Games of Chance (We're easy to please)."

According to the Annenberg Public Policy Institute, 20 percent of college students already play on-line poker at least once a week. If that escalates, the letters home will be pathetic. ("Mom, Dad, I sort of lost the dorm room. Can you send a milk crate for me to live in?")

I understand the states' reluctance to inconvenience the casual gambler with time on his hands just to play nanny to the weak-willed habitual gambler, but my former Sunday school teacher is less sympathetic. ("Tell Mr. Casual Gambler he can slip on his cardigan and casually amble his virtual heinie on over to the New York Times Crossword Puzzle or something!") I didn't say she was Sunday school teacher of the year.

Not only does armchair gambling threaten jobs in brick-and-mortar gambling meccas such as Las Vegas and Tunica ("What happens in Vegas is going to happen less and less often. Help!"), but it messes with our romantic memories of those destinations. I just can't see Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack going for this. ("Hey, Dean, bring Sammy over to my laundry room. I've got booze, internet Blackjack, on-line broads who want to chat and messages from some Nigerian widow who wants to transfer millions to my bank account. Ring a ding ding. What? Of COURSE I'm wearing my tuxedo.")

An enhanced emphasis on on-line gambling would further cheapen the American experience. Now the glamorous show girls will be your wife in that tattered flannel nightgown, the mouthwatering buffet is whatever is least moldy in the fridge and the glitzy floor show is those roaches skittering under your dirty sweat socks when you flick on the light.

Mostly, I worry about the slippery slope. If we let the government exploit this vice as a revenue crutch, where will they stop? ("Students, the regular report cards are free; but for a modest sum we can upgrade them to Zig-Zag paper. And if you don't have a prom date, see the school-sanctioned gentleman in the purple suit with the feather in his hat...").

- Danny Tyree's columns are distributed by Cagle Cartoons Inc. (tyreetyrades@aol.com).

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