Cracking Down On Gambling Grandmas And Geeks

It’s the most tersely memorable scene in Casablanca and one of the best scenes in any American movie ever.

“I am shocked, shocked, to find out that there’s gambling going on in here!” “Your winnings, sir.” “Oh, thank you very much.”

The gambling going on in Rick’s cafe is pretty small bore, if not small stakes: some refugees turn to the roulette wheel in order to win the money they need to flee. The authorities pretend they don’t know what’s going on until they need an excuse to close the establishment, at which point gambling becomes a convenient one. But why do we find, or pretend to find, gambling so shocking?

The story of the Jewish bubbies (grandmas) down in Florida whose penny ante Mah Jongg game got raided by the cops is a funny one, sure. It’ll probably go over well as an anecdote, if you want to share it at your Thanksgiving table. But there’s just something so weird about it.

The women were told to pack up their domino-style tiles and leave the premises.

When the women asked what the beef was, they were told that there was no problem with playing the Chinese game. It was the fact that they were gambling that had landed them into trouble.

Apparently, someone at the Escondido had reported to police that the women were illegally getting some action. That person referred to a local ordinance proscribing wagering on Mah Jongg.

They were cleared to return after it was discovered that they were not, technically, breaking any rules. Some neighbor had just been trying to get them into trouble.

The situation only gets murkier today, though, with this new report from the Forward:

Lt. Robert Pelton, spokesman for the Altamonte Springs Police Department, defended his department’s actions, specifying that while mahjong itself is legal, the real issue was with the “other gambling-activities happening in the clubhouse.”

“Roulette,” Pelton said. “It was the roulette tables that were making it illegal.”

So … were the bubbies also playing small stakes roulette? And even if they were, should we really care? Is it the best use of our limited time and resources, to police what octogenarians do while they’re distracting themselves from their own mortality?

Lest you think I’m speaking from a sense of tribalism — because, God willing, I’ll be a bubbe myself someday — I feel equally ¯_(ツ)_/¯ about the continued existence of sites like FanDuel and DraftKings, which are being threatened with shutdowns.

On Nov. 10, New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, ordered FanDuel and the rival website DraftKings to stop accepting bets in the state. A hearing to consider the order is scheduled for Wednesday in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. …

Schneiderman has said that daily fantasy sports games constitute illegal gambling. FanDuel and DraftKings have argued that daily fantasy sports are games of skill and legal under state law.

Last Tuesday, Schneiderman sought a temporary injunction in State Supreme Court against FanDuel and DraftKings. He said in court papers that daily fantasy sports were “nothing more than a rebranding of sports betting” and that they were “plainly illegal.”

Schneiderman is one of the most important law enforcement officials in one of the country’s most populous states, and his priority is to go after fantasy football? It’s just so bizarre to me. Why should a transaction like this, which doesn’t harm anyone, be subject to official scrutiny? Sure, the Times points out, “for addicts, fantasy sites can lead to ruinous path.” But for alcohol addicts, booze can do the same, and we don’t outlaw bars or liquor stores.

Besides, it’s not like we don’t have casinos in New York. We do! And as for “sports betting” being its own kind of untouchable immorality, we have horse racing too. Lots of it. And let’s not even start in on lotteries.

So, we’re pro-gambling, even pro- gambling on sports. Just … not for nerds? I don’t get it. Please, someone, explain.

I am all about government intervention — when it can do good. On this issue, though, call me a small government conservative. The alternative, intervening in how adults spend their time and money because it offends our sensibilities, seems paternalistic. Who cares what grown ass people do with their discretionary income? Let the grandmas and the geeks have their fun.

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