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EDITORIAL

Would 'real' games be an expansion of Indiana gambling?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 - 12:01 am

Or is it just offering the same thing in a different format?

When this newspaper started publishing an online edition, was that an “expansion” of news or merely offering in a different form something that was already available? That is an interesting philosophical conundrum that will factor into whether the General Assembly permits Indiana’s two racetracks to have actual, dealer-run table games in addition to the digital versions of them already in use.

The tracks’ owners say adding the games is a life-or-death matter for them, which is undoubtedly an exaggeration. Yes, gambling profits have been down in the last couple of years, but people aren’t going to stop going to casinos and racinos.

Opponents say they’re against the change because it would amount to an expansion of gambling. That’s an exaggeration, too – there would be no new games, just the same games in a new format.

This is a fascinating attempt to go against the whole trend in information and entertainment these days. Everything is going digital just as quickly as entrepreneurs can make it happen. Whether it’s books or movies, music or newspapers, you can get it faster and more easily by skipping the hardware. But here are some entertainers who want to take a step back from the electronic format to the hardware of actual gambling equipment and flesh-and-blood human beings to operate it.

Let’s concede that the gambling pros would not be seeking this change unless they thought it would either encourage more gamblers or make the ones already there waste more of their money – or both. But will it, at least to the point where it is a threat to the common good?

It could. In our mad rush to digitize, we tend to gloss over how important touch, smell, sight and sound are to the enjoyment of activities we become immersed in. Atmosphere counts – real games will bring in the people who delight in the click of chips and the snap of cards on felt but feel less inclined to watch blipping lights and flashing numbers.

On the other hand, there is reason to hope there will be fewer problem gamblers even if there are more gamblers overall. Watching those blips and flashes begins to feel more like a video game and less like real gambling. It’s easier to sit there for hour and hours, losing.

Adding real table games, it is estimated, would require about 600 new workers to run them. Since the “expansion” effect is an open and debatable question, the might be reason enough to approve the request. At least it’s not the worst idea legislators will here this year – not by a long shot.