Is it time to say uncle?
For those of us who abhor state-sponsored gambling, these are lousy days indeed. A casino rises in Springfield. And, despite its super hinky backstory, a bronze behemoth of bilk is taking shape in Everett.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, on Monday, the US Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning commercial sports betting in most states, thereby opening the door for folks to lose billions more wagering on professional and amateur games.
So much losing! Despite opponents’ efforts, gambling keeps expanding, as it must, since the industry’s survival depends on folks betting and losing ever more. How do you beat back this predatory industry once the ground has been broken, the roulette wheels start turning, and the state’s cut begins rolling in?
Should we just admit defeat here?
No way, says Les Bernal. He heads Stop Predatory Gambling, a national nonprofit that has been trying to push back the gaming tide for a decade. Where some of us see yet another brutal defeat here, Bernal spots the makings of a victory.
“Some see it as a tough fight, and I don’t dispute that it is, but this is the moment,” he says. “It’s inevitable that we will ultimately win.”
Before we proceed here, I should note that Bernal seems entirely sane and very smart. The Lawrence resident, a former high school and college basketball coach, 48, spent years working on Massachusetts political campaigns before he joined the staff of state Senator Susan Tucker, a passionate opponent of expanded gambling. When Tucker left the Senate in 2011, Bernal continued the fight.
His operation runs on a flimsy $100,000 a year in its battle against the multibillion dollar gambling industry.
For Bernal, this battle is all about government’s duty to its citizens. Instead of urging Americans to save, and offering meaningful paths out of poverty, states have created “a lottery class” of people who go up against impossible odds for a shot at instant social mobility.
Lotteries are “Exhibit A . . . in how our government is no longer working to promote the common good,” he says. “Governments are spending billions encouraging US citizens — half of whom own no assets — to gamble away and lose their savings and paychecks on games that are literally rigged against them.”
Amen, brother. But how could we possibly stop gambling expanding now, let alone reverse it? Everybody is hooked. We’re in toothpaste-out-of-the-tube land here.
Bernal reckons it can happen. And this is where he gets into territory so optimistic that, even for somebody who still believes in our society’s capacity to overcome our worst instincts, it’s hard to hang with him. It sounds, in its way, like the confidence of the undaunted gambler — that in the long run, the house will lose.
If he and his fellow travelers keep plugging away, “People will see that what the gambling industry offers is ‘phony prosperity,’ ” he says, likening expanded gambling to the once-unchecked growth of the subprime mortgage industry.
Sure, his side has almost zero money. But he takes solace in the fact that, even though opponents were wildly outspent, 41 percent of Massachusetts voters wanted to repeal the casino law a few years ago.
Even in the coming explosion of sports betting, Bernal sees cause for hope. Right now, gambling touches only one third of Americans, he says. But sports reaches everybody, just about. When gambling makes its full, blatant, grimy, state-sanctioned intrusion into that hallowed part of American life, more Americans will recoil, he argues.
I just figure Americans will get used to the grime, then contentedly lose buckets more money. But Bernal has unshakable faith that we’ll end up in the right place — eventually. “You can’t point to a successful movement that improved society that was an easy layup,” he says. “That day will come, God-willing, in my lifetime.”
I wish I had his faith in humanity. To my eye, it’s divine intervention or bust.Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.