532 Comments
Jan 3Liked by Ben Krauss

Thoughts:

1) Didn't realize this was Ben's piece. The "back when I lived in DC" should have given it away, but I glossed over this. Was this his first major article here? Congrats to him if so. It's a pretty big forum for emerging writers. Over 100K subs, right? That's bigger than the vast majority of US newspapers.

2) Ben's writing style is very similar to that of Matt Y. (another reason I didn't initially notice).

2) The subject of judicial review comes up fairly regularly here. Our gambling situation is a good example of why less is more in that regard. The black robes just can't help themselves, can they?

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To be clear -- the judicial review here was *correct* on the law. The way that Congress had regulated it previously was to prohibit states from modifying their existing sports gambling laws, which was basically Congress making it illegal but carving out exceptions for Nevada and a couple other states.

The problem with judicial review is the same as the problem with ballot referenda: it legalizes without regulating. I think lots of states that legalized marijuana by ballot referendum have run into this problem as well.

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The referenda depend on the details - I think there might have been some states where the drafters of the referendum actually put together a reasonable set of regulations to include in it. But it’s true that there’s no way to edit it during the process the way there is if it comes up legislatively.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

Hard disagree on no 2. We need judicial review, it doesn’t follow that we’re going to like every decision. We need law, doesn’t mean we like every law. We need regulation, doesn’t mean every regulation is good or necessary.

What you need to ask yourself is the alternative? Would it be better to live in a society whose govenment has unlimited powers? In anarchy? In lessaiz-faire capitalism? Heck no for each of the three. I’m not going to become an anarchist just because bad , sometimes very bad actors, can be in power (nor will I stop supporting democracy because sometimes they get *elected* to power). In the same manner it’s silly to stop supporting judicial review just because I don’t like scotus current composition much less any individual ruling.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

You misunderstand, judicial review where the black robes decide according to my preference is good (Roe/Obergefell). Judicial review where black robes decide against my preference is bad (Heller/Murphy).

If they just asked me, I'd be happy to tell them which is correct.

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I assume u mean the second number 2.

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> We need judicial review, it doesn’t follow that we’re going to like every decision<

I tend to agree we need judicial review. But I think it's used far too promiscuously. I'd suggest the compromise of requiring a supermajority, which was in fact the precedent set by Marbury.

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Congress can change or eliminate the first amendment if they don’t like how much judicial review is occurring under it, but it doesn’t seem there’s support for that.

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No. Congress cannot "change or eliminate the first amendment."

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Jan 4·edited Jan 4

Sorry you’re right, I meant they could propose it. States could ratify it. My point was lawmakers don’t need the courts to change judicial review.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

I also didn't realize this was Ben, very well written! Probably my favorite non-Matt post to date.

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Correct

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When I lived in Denmark there was so much online gambling. People on pensions and government checks use it a lot there.

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I remember reading somewhere that Denmark is slightly outlier-ish as far as the Nordics go when it comes to vice. They're fonder than their cousins not only of gambling but apparently smoking, too.

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They smoke in front of their infants all the time.

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"...Denmark is slightly outlier-ish as far as the Nordics go when it comes to vice..."

Danes: the louche, mañana Mediterraneans of the Scandinavian world.

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What if we allow gambling but you're only allowed to spend $X per app unless you [clear some annoying hurdle].

Like you have to write a physical letter and sign it and mail it into the Secretary of State, saying

"Please allow me to lose money and make poor financial decisions. I would like to lose more than $800 this year on gambling. This is my solemn vow."

This way Charles Barkley can keep betting huge sums of money and funding state tax coffers but we keep regular people reasonably protected.

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The past 20 years has seen a remarkable loosening of vice laws. Now we are seeing the social disorder and harms that caused people to support those restrictions.

(Alcohol is available everywhere it seems and don’t get me started on the number of midday drivers I see smoking marijuana. Sheesh.)

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

It’s a bad time to be a person with poor impulse control. And the effects of the pervasive day drinking/weed smoking—not just the smoke hanging in the air, but, as you note, people driving/biking/working/whatever while drunk or high—are everywhere (at least in big cities), in my experience.

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"It’s a bad time to be a person with poor impulse control."

Of course I regret the decision now. But at the time, I just couldn't resist being born!

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It's just another version of the anthropic principle, after all. The reason why we find ourselves surrounded by short-sighted, hasty, irrational people is because the prudent, deliberate, circumspect, people considered life on earth and decided to take a pass.

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Or it's a good time to be a person with poor impulse control, because of Ozempic.

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Except that the people who had the foresight and self-restraint to defer becoming a person until Ozempic was available are the people who probably don't need it anyhow.

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I'm not a c-suite millionaire or anything, but I've been moderately successful in life, and I think it's at least in part because I more strongly recall bad feelings. So with the few times I've gambled or dabbled in drugs, when I think back on those times and contemplate doing them again, I remember how bad I felt afterwards when I was coming down, or had a terrible hangover, or when I lost money, not how good the opposite felt.

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I’m very similar. Easily hung over, I don’t like feeling intoxicated or full. It’s easy for me to exercise because I feel so much worse when I don’t. When I spend money on something stupid, or sit around wasting time watching dumb stuff streaming, I feel disgusted with myself and am able to stop for long periods of time. Luck of the genetic draw, I guess, but it’s served me pretty well. I feel especially fortunate since I have seriously alcoholic relatives on both sides of my family.

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It's the best time ever to be alive. Which years would you consider to be better for people with poor impulse control?

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Times when laws and social norms served as disincentives to excessive drinking/gambling/getting high. The onus is now on each person to strike an acceptable balance, and it looks like a lot of people are having trouble doing that.

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I remember discussing paternalism in some ethical theory class I took in college and we discussed helmets, how as long as I don’t hold the other driver responsible for the death, requiring the cyclist to wear a helmet is a law that forces someone to not take a risk they are willing to take and doesn’t harm others at least directly. A lot of discussion in the class was “ what about the indirect costs? The guys kids will struggle and will possibly become criminals, the hospital will waste resources on him that he cannot repay bc he is dead, etc.”. My take on it was more along the lines of “fuck worrying about paternalism let’s just prevent the guy from dying by requiring a helmet and that’s that.” Anyway not the most thoughtful point but I am pro-paternalism for a lot of things particularly drugs, alcohol, and I guess now gambling. We have direct to brain addictive clickbait advertising hitting people’s neurons all day we have to be a little bit paternalistic sometimes companies are just too good at convincing folks to do and buy things. Please stop advertising marijuana everywhere in my city all of a sudden as well.

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#BanTikTok

I think we should try to minimize harm. There is a limit, like how can we get that last bit of people to wear seatbelts (majority of vehicle crash deaths)? At what point is the marginal cost too great for the relative benefit?

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I tell my wife I am not moving the car until she puts her belt on so I am doing my part.

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It's much easier to make the helmet argument--and it applies even better to mandatory seat belt laws--to just say that streets are government run spaces, and thus they can make some restrictions on privileges in those spaces as a condition of that privilege.

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That argument just shows that the government has the power to make helmets mandatory - and they would also have the power to make it mandatory to wear a green bow tie while biking if they wanted. (Nothing about that argument depends on the difference between a helmet and a green bow tie.)

The paternalism case is about whether they *shoul* do it to protect people.

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I think rational basis review by the courts adequately solves such a question

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The price of civil society is paying taxes and traffic laws and such.

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Without bike helmets, society would crumble!

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Yes. But our system is not well-equipped for the problem of "that's going to be a bad idea for some people, but do we really want to arrest folks for it?"

I suppose the mention of social disorder attempts to attach an externality, but in many ways these are very individual problems.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

It’s more of “why are we making access to bad decisions easier?”

FFS there seems to be another smoke shop opening up every other week. Like how much weed can these well to do white people be smoking.

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I hear you, but can you walk your intuition out to a full policy position?

Like, in truth I probably benefited from weed being illegal when I was younger and would have been high a lot more. And now I benefit from it being legal because I only enjoy the occasional mild edible (as a sleep aid).

Full criminalization I think was bad policy, right? Locking people up for weed seems ridiculous.

Was decriminalizing "personal use" possession a good compromise solution?

Is something like the tobacco ad restrictions the right approach re gambling? I could totally support that. No reason anyone should be encouraged to gamble.

As a less likely approach, I sometimes wonder if the country might be ripe for a social movement that provides both community and a peer support group for a variety of good decisions. (I sometimes look at Mitt Romney and think I should live more like a Mormon but without all the specific religious beliefs.)

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I have no answers, though it probably should be more difficult to open a smoke shop in a neighborhood.

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Usually I hear "decriminalized but not legalized" interpreted as "we won't make criminals out of the buyers but we will with the sellers.".

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the one thing I'd add here is that I'm not sure how different Portland has been with respect to public substance abuse compared to comparable super blue cities that didn't decriminalize at what turned out to be the absolute worst possible moment.

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Well that is what you get when you have the ACIG lobby (all crime is good.)

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“Social drinkers don’t build breweries”

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I once spoke to a marketing manager at a large beer company that said a typical customer for their cheap light beer peaks as a relatively new consumer at “21” (he used air quotes) and slowly declines through their 20s and they have to maximize when they’re at the top of the curve at “21”

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I was really taken back by all the weed shops opening near me as well but then I reflected how easy it is to get all the alcohol you want. Not only liquor stores but every single supermarket, 7-11, minimarts and so on. Weed shops are a drop in the bucket compared to all that.

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Funny thing is that in many places you weren’t able to purchase alcohol at minimarts and 7-11 20 years ago. It’s a general liberalization of unhealthy decisions.

You could even put UberEats in this category of vice facilitation.

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Meh. I remember purchasing beer at a gas stations when I was in high school in the 90s (NY State). I don’t think that’s new.

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Vice taxes are that middle ground whether it is for paternalistic or externality reasons.

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Except for tobacco, which we've oddly (and correctly) decided needs to be strictly regulated. But vaping! Vaping started out as a way for smokers to quit and then Juul came along and said "hey what if we got teenagers hooked on it?"

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The reversal of dwindling smoking rates via vape pens infuriates me to no end.

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It's considerably less harmful than smoking cigarettes, so I'll give it that, but vapes marketed primarily to nonsmokers was a big problem.

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The tobacco exception is not that odd because that did result in a genuine bad side effect in second hand smoke being to non-participants as a nuisance at best and a hazard at worst. It also makes be wonder, per Dan's top level comment, where cannabis smoke will fall.

As for vaping, the path that I still see as promising is nicotine free vapes.

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The science behind the harm of secondhand smoke was actually sort of iffy -- nonsmokers didn't like being around cigarette smoke, but most of them were not going to be around it nearly enough to suffer any real harm for it. It just made for a convenient pretext.

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Hence where the "nuisance at best part" comes into play.

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Yep, it all started when the Supreme court struck down sodomy laws.

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Scalia's dissent in Lawrence v. Texas remains an all time master class in slippery slope arguments:

"State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers’ validation of laws based on moral choices."

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Drugs can kill you and gambling ruin you. What harm does “sodomy” do to practitioners?

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Don't talk about the 80s don't talk about the 80s don't talk about the 80s don't talk about the 80s

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At Least in DC is also see more speeding, and excessive muffler noise. Surprising these are not more strictly enforced if only for revenue purposes.

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DC’s city council didn’t have statutory authority to “defund the police” so they opted to put in a hiring freeze on police in 2020.

With the mass retirement of officers during Covid they have not been able to fill the labor gap.

Then there is the whole no new tax pledge from Bowser and the unfunded programs like increasing SNAP benefits pushed by the council. Sigh.

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And Bowser is to the right of the Council!

But I do sense reaction on crime. The problem will be with the budget.

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Structural deficits.

And the MD politicians don’t want to repeal Hogan’s tax cuts. So dumb.

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What social disorder do you attribute to the loosening of vice laws?

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Is alcohol actually more available now than it was thirty years ago? I suppose Massachusetts has legalized Sunday sales, but how much else has changed?

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In addition to what Dan said the alcohol tax is per unit and not indexed to inflation so it has fallen a ton in real value in the last 30 years. In doing some googling though I did notice that drinking actually hit its peak in 1980 after states had gradually loosened regulations in the 40 years after prohibition. Between 1975-1984 a lot of states raised their drinking ages culminating in the drinking age act in 1983. This was also accompanied by a lot of other restrictions (nominally targeted at drinking and driving but also just making it harder for bars to serve people) and generally resulted in a decline in liquor consumption after 1980. So that gives me some hope that we can recalibrate and drive drinking down again with sufficient societal commitment.

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I didn’t know this about the effective tax rates on alcohol. Now I need to do a dig.

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https://www.slowboring.com/p/booze-tax

Particularly hard liquor used to have insanely high taxes.

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Yes. There has been tremendous reforms on location of sale, times of sale, deregulation of distribution (big one), breweries, and liquor licenses.

Cirrhosis rates have gone way up, particularly among younger (prime-age) women. Heck even marketing wine as “mommy juice” is a relatively recent phenomenon.

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I hadn’t heard about that! But here’s a source I found with a helpful chart (on p. 13) showing cirrhosis mortality rates by year for men and women since 1910: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/sites/default/files/surveillance-report118.pdf

Interestingly, even though rates have been increasing for the past 20 years, they are only just now getting as high as the *lowest* levels before 1980, which occurred in the depth of prohibition.

The “wine mom” phenomenon is definitely an important new one - but this is just one of many trends that have occurred in American alcohol culture in recent years, including the move from beer to wine or cocktails, the rise of non-alcoholic beers and cocktails, and the rise of alcoholic sparkling water. It’s a complex set of trends that don’t all point in the same direction.

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I feel like people don't really have a sense for how widespread problem drinking was for a long time.

What we think of as a "problem drinker" (not an alcoholic) in 2024 would have barely registered in the 1950s.

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I think to Kenny's point about trends cutting two ways, I think drinking has become more "pro-social" meaning it is accepted at a lot of public type events, people do it around their kids more, etc... but probably the number of guys drinking 5 beers after work every night has declined... So net net this means less people drinking an absolute ton but more people afflicted with some level of elevated drinking, especially women.

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I think I agree with this. There are a lot more places where it's socially acceptable to drink now, but it's way less socially acceptable to blow off your wife and kids and go get shitfaced with your buddies.

Then again, in absolute terms I don't think the number of drinkers is up overall -- it's probably more that the woman who wasn't opposed to having an occasional glass of wine on a night out now does that twice a week?

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An interesting piece of this is that folks under 35 are drinking a lot less than millenials and boomers, which may be because they are more racially diverse and white people drink the most. But in any case that may augur a more favorable environment for increasing regulation.

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Maybe all the UberEats cuts into their beer money?

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I don't know that it's more "available" now, but there's a lot more alcohol that appeals to what I would call "social drinkers" -- e.g. in 1990 your options were basically mass-produced swill beer and hard liquor. Zima was just barely coming on scene, but you didn't have hard seltzer and the like.

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Ah, Zima, a product that was just too far ahead of its time....

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Zima would have killed if it had hit the market in 2015.

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You could definitely buy quality European beers by 1990 in big cities.

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Jan 3Liked by Ben Krauss

It’s fun to see what divides the slow boring community. It looks like the paternalist/libertarian divide is a big one.

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It’s also fascinating to see how we can be so alike on some issue and unlike on others.

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Which is probably a really good sign -- you want the housing abundance movement to be able to accommodate both libertarians who are concerned about property rights and paternalists who are worried about poverty/homelessness. Oversimplifying, obviously, but you get the idea.

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Issues where the harms mostly accrue to the individual are a big dividing point there. I feel like adult seat belt laws should be a bigger divider than they are but they're so accepted by now that campaigning against them would make you look like a loon.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

You write: "It’s a $280 billion marketplace that’s generating massive tax windfalls for the state legislatures that legalize it."

I think you are overstating the size of the industry, and therefore the size of the problem. Throughout your piece, you use the total amount bet (the handle) to describe the size of the industry. That is the wrong way to think about it.

Per your first linked piece, the actual revenue (i.e., the losses to the public) are much, much smaller -- averaging about 8% per my quick perusal. So it's more like a $24B marketplace -- smaller than the revenue of Starbucks. Seems like there are better places to spend political capital to me.

https://www.legalsportsreport.com/sports-betting/revenue/

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By marketplace, I was referring to total handle. There's lots of different estimates out there on revenue, but one thing is clear. It is growing!

I do think certain reforms, especially in the realm of advertising would not take significant political capital to enact.

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I suspected the figure was inflated. I don’t think Congress should ban sloppy hyperbole in substack posts, but I hope the market will disincentivize it.

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I’m not really sure this disproves the point though. I mean, yes I agree the $280 billion figure is an exaggeration for “clicks”. But an increase is problem gambling is a real thing. I think Josh Barro said it right that there is not enough friction anymore with gambling.

I think this gets back to my previous posts about libertarianism; that libertarianism is a useful tool for criticizing government overreach, but as a governing philosophy, it’s found wanting. I think in general it’s good to distinguish between “doing this act should get a person in trouble with the law” vs. “government should take no action to curb this act”. The former is why I think all sorts of vices should be legal; gambling, drinking, smoking and I’ll even throw in prostitution*. But that’s separate and part from, should we allow this vice to be as unregulated as it’s now.

We have laws against drunk driving and allowing people under age of 21 to drink. I honestly don’t think most people think these laws are bad things (people may argue about details like what shouldn’t legal limit be to drive). Not sure why same principle doesn’t apply to gambling; making that much more difficult to gamble but not banning it is probably overall good for society.

I’ll also say, gambling is great example where changing technology changes the debate. When arguments for legalizing gambling were made 20 years ago, there was no “smart” phones. There probably was a lot less downside risk to complete free for all gambling as then there is now when you can gamble from your phone.

* Prostitution is one where I’m most conflicted about how “legal” this act should be. In general I’m against the idea the government has any business telling two consenting adults how they can have sex. But with prostitution, “consenting” and “adults” is doing a lot of work here.

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Federal government regulation is like a very large-caliber gun. Well-suited to large problems, but when trained on small issues, the collateral damage is likely to be quite high.

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It really depends on the regulation. There are a lot of sophisticated and subtle things the government can do depending on the structure of the issue.

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What you say definitely can be true...but that’s different from saying it’s destined to be true. Which is sort of my point. Drunk driving laws are technically state laws but they exist because the federal government tied federal highway funding to passing drunk driving laws. I’d say that regulation is a win. Others like the Jones Act or “Buy America” provisions? Yeah definitely dumb and serves your point.

Plus I have an issue with idea that local regulation is default better. Go back to the issue we all agree on most, housing. It’s local zoning regulation and local laws in general that are the biggest impediment to building housing. In fact it’s become kind of axiomatic that solutions need to be from state and even federal government.

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There is also a large role for culture. Norms, and expectations do a lot in society independent of law, though the incentives from law matter. It is an interesting matter thinking through when changes in the law are lagging indictors of cultural change, or the reverse cases when they push through changes that then are latter reflected with cultural adaptation. Regardless, I think there is much more to be done to think about how to influence norms, beyond just funding adversing campaigns, to achieve societal outcomes.

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The British have an interesting approach to prostitution that seems to work. Exchanging sex for money is not illegal but keeping a house of prostitution is, as well as any kind of public advertising. Basically, they tolerate web based listings for independent providers but little else.

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The problem in the US is that the first amendment makes it very hard to restrict advertising for anything that’s legal. The restrictions we do have (on for example smoking) are largely extracted from settlements, not by law.

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It surely renders the point less forceful though.

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Very relevant point! Salient on the individual level too. Technically I bet something like 10% of my income on sports last year, which understandably makes me sound like an addict. But my actual losses were roughly $0. It isn’t a very expensive hobby, albeit not a very constructive one.

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That 8% would typically be thought of as the “profit margin”, though. It doesn’t diminish the fact that $280B is bet. All market sizes are reported this way. By your logic, Starbucks is only a $7B company.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

Nope. Revenue is what the business collects, before costs. The revenue for sports gambling isn't the total amount wagered, but the Take or Vig. From that, they deduct expenses like software, personnel, advertising, etc.

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You could just as easily say that revenue is the amount wagered and paying back winning wagers is also a “cost” — it’s really just accounting semantics.

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I suppose you could account for it the same way that a "normal" business accounts for refunds, but there's no other industry where a business would be "refunding" 92% of revenue.

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There may be marketplace impacts that are not direct revenue. There are many sports fans who do not love watching the sport. They do not gamble on the games because they are fans but are fans because they gamble on the game. Gambling can be an economic driver for sports.

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Related question for gambling experts: those numbers suggest the vast bulk of sports betting is paid back out to bettors. Right? And yet we often hear of "degenerate" gamblers who get into serious trouble from their addiction. Are they just really bad at it? Or most of their losses come from other types of gambling (cards, slots, etc)? Genuinely interested in how this works...

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A small house edge will still screw you over with probability one, as long as you make enough bets

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When it comes to problem gamblers, bankroll management is probably a big problem, too. It doesn't take that many coin flips to reach 0 if you're betting your whole savings on each flip.

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That's exactly it.

I remember lots of women I knew would go to the casinos in Oklahoma or Louisiana, and they would just go in with $200 cash and play until it was gone. Problem gamblers will lose $200 and then keep betting to try to make it back, and then they end up losing $5000.

Problem gamblers also tend to engage in a lot of emotional betting -- chasing losses is a big part of it. In-game betting is a big thing that leads to problem gambling because it's almost always done irrationally.

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That's as I understand, but the fact that revenue is so much smaller than handle indicates the vast majority of sports gamblers don't have a serious problem. Does that sounds right?

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A 6-15% negative expectation is much worse than basic strategy blackjack, roulette, betting the pass line in craps or baccarat. So it’s not that kind at all.

I’ve also heard that people who put in the time and effort to actually become truly “sharp” at sports betting have their action banned by sports books when they become known.

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Most people are really bad at it, to be clear. The house typically takes about 10% vig so the bettor has to win something like 53% of the time to break even.

The way that "degenerates" would usually get into trouble was like my college frat bros who would bet through an illegal bookie they met at a sports bar (this was back when gambling was illegal, of course) and the bookie would take bets on credit so they bet money they didn't actually have, the bookie just had a certain date that they had to "settle" by. Then they'd get down like $5000 and, being broke college kids, couldn't pay it back. These guys luckily weren't mobsters who would break legs. I'm not sure how it happens with regulated casinos which usually make you pay up front, but I guess if you use your rent payment to bet on sports it could cause problems.

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Americans have access to a lot of (expensive) credit even if the casinos do not offer credit themselves, too.

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That is already the case with a number of state lottos. You must pay cash to play.

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I went to a church raffle last month where around a few hundred people placed $1 bets to win an instant pot cooker.

Obviously people were doing this largely for charity, but I threw in a buck even though I'm not religious because I happened to walk by and wasn't going to do anything else productive with that dollar. Plus hey, free instant pot!

Obviously this is quite a different situation from some degenerate running numbers. But it's also not THAT different. I'm not really trying to make a point here about policy, I just think it's interesting how you can frame a pretty similar activity in radically different ways.

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do degenerate gamblers have any savings to speak of or is it a more hand to mouth thing?

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

As far as sportsbook edges go, the worst are the parlays, which is why DK and FD heavily promote them and brag about them to their investors.

The traditional bets on one team or another winning are not that bad, but parlays pay out much less overall.

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Spotify heavily promotes parlays, too, via its sport-based (cough Bill Simmons cough) podcasters.

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I'm in total agreement with you on the issues, Ben.

But on timing: could we wait until after the next election?

Your boss has this idea that we should "do popular things" in order to win elections. And I'm just not sure that a nanny-state campaign against betting is going to be popular.

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Sports gambling does have high popular approval rating, but people might split differently on the reforms I mention in the article. Especially, if there's a good faith effort to communicate the public health downsides of our current sports gambling environment.

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I have to say that I'm very puzzled at your usage of the "public health" phrase both here and in the article. What health is being implicated here, and how does it impact everyone among the public population?

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Jan 3Liked by Ben Krauss

Ever met a gambling addict? Or an addict in general? It’s absolutely a health issue

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This is more of the continual medicalization of behavior, which is just an excuse for social controls 'for your own good'.

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An overwhelming fraction of the harm done by cigarettes goes through direct impact on smokers (who then impact others in their community), yet regulation of smoking is universally considered a public health issue. Is the issue that gambling addiction impacts ones physical health only indirectly?

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I can entertain mental health arguments, even if I would likely have a high bar to clear on it.

But pairing it with public ups the puzzling. Someone blowing a bunch of money on gambling does not impact the day-to-day life activities of others.

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Your husband/dad blowing a ton of money does?

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One's spouse or parents do not consist of the general public.

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founding

“Public health” just means the health statistics of the public. If we can reduce the number of people who are getting lung cancer by 50%, that is a public health issue, even if the way we do it is by getting people to stop doing something to themself that has zero effect on others.

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I disagree pretty strongly that that should be the definition.

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By this definition, every single thing that happens to a person, if it can be measured statistically by the State, is a Pubic Health issue. We can deduce from that that Public Health agencies have a remit, nay, *an obligation*, to address the totality of human interaction that is legible to the State.

Do you understand how totalitarian the phrase "even if the way we do it is by getting people to stop doing something to themself that has zero effect on others." is?

It's controlling people for the sake of controlling them. That's insane.

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I don't think anybody is talking about an outright ban, but curtailing in-game betting and some of the more exotic bets out there would be a very good place to start.

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Hi Ben I loved the article. I would have liked to see more stats on what makes this a big problem beyond the increased betting and the increased calls to hotlines. For example I am sure this must affect poor people worse, and there must be some stats for that, and I remember the great mark kleischmidt always trotting out numbers to show 20% of the customers (heavy users and addicts) generate 80-90% of revenue in alcohol so there is a deep need to keep creating addicts and feed them what is killing them. Not sure if those stats available for gambling or not.

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Does anyone enjoy sports book advertising? Are barstool bros going to switch their votes because they might not see Draft Kings ads during the next NFL season? Reigning in advertising seems like a political winner, albeit a very modest one. It appeals to suburban women without pissing off the bros.

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founding

What sorts of regulations on advertising would be constitutionally acceptable? As I understand it, the rules on alcohol, tobacco, and adult-oriented movie advertising are mainly voluntary rather than regulatory.

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And the tobacco rules are neither voluntary nor regulatory: they came up via legal settlement.

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Another reason why I wish corporations didn’t have speech rights

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99% of them are deplorable, but I do have to admit that one major exception is the one where Ryan Fitzpatrick does a redux of his famous press conference where he borrowed DeSean Jackson's apparel.

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I would vote for someone if they got rid of the five minutes of help line read outs during ads on podcasts. Sheesh

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

I think regulations on advertising and content during broadcasts are popular.

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founding

But probably unconstitutional.

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Fair point.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

I'm not someone who gambles more than like once a leap year or something. I have no personal investment in the subject. The ads are definitely annoying and oversaturated.

Regardless, I have less than zero patience for this argument. It essentially amounts to thinking you get to tell other adults they're not allowed to make their own decisions because you think they're dumb, and just... Fuck you. No. The state doesn't get to tell people they can't be dumb if they want to be. I don't care how overwhelmingly obvious the evidence is that it's bad for people to throw their money away frivolously, that's not something the state has any right to do anything about. This is America. Fuck your nanny state.

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author

Your well written dissent is very welcome; telling our staff "fuck you" is very much not.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3Liked by Kate Crawford, Ben Krauss

Apologies, not intended as an insult to anyone so much as to convey the appropriate degree of "will not comply" with the proposed constraints.

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author

There are lots of good laws and actually whole entire federal agencies that protect us from individual decisions that have a strong negative impact on society

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Have we really established that gambling has a "strong negative impact" on society though? You mention an anecdote that you might have gambled more than you'd have wanted to if it were easier and that the gambling help line has gotten more calls (which could just be chalked up to increased awareness). Seems insufficient unless readers are already coming into it thinking that gambling is bad for society.

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Yeah one serious question I have is whether or not the typical gambler would actually spend the money on something better. And I have no idea what the answer is. I'm not sure that the typical entertainment option an American blows their money on is all that much better for society

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The typical gambler, probably not. The problem gambler, though, would otherwise be spending the money on, like, paying their mortage.

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Right, the typical gambler and the problem gambler are two different issues wrt QImmortal's question.

As far as the problem gambler goes, I agree they are, by definition, greatly harmed. But part of the question becomes how much any of what we're discussing would sever them from the ability to gamble. At the margins I imagine advertising and ease-of-access creates some problems gamblers. But there are also others who would find bookies or fly into vegas in the old days. I'm not sure of how big either of those two populations are and the latter group is much harder to help.

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Increasing friction does tend to curb things considerably even if it's not an outright "ban," which is where I think a lot of Ben's proposals would come in: if you have to go to a brick-and-mortar sportsbook to place a bet that's going to deter a lot of the most problematic gambling behaviors.

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It's very debatable that a lot of those laws are in fact good, or that those agencies actually protect society. You could maybe give a few examples of each, and we could see if the comments agree with your assessment.

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Okay, I'll bite. Are we better off because there's an entire set of rules and a federal agency to police whether automobiles are safe? Or because there are laws about what you can do with your car and what you have to do while you're in it (seat belts, etc.)? You could maybe argue that some of the regulations around car seats for children have become overkill, but in general vehicle safety regulations are good.

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I don't really have a problem with product safety laws or crash investigation (I assume you are referring to the NHTSA), but I think that seatbelt laws are correct insofar as the concern is "It keeps the driver physically at the controls" (which it never is) and incorrect insofar as the concern is "the public has to foot the bill for injuries therefore you must take all available safety precautions" (which it usually is). The first is reasonable, the second is populist "Mom's Against" nanny statism. But if you ask someone on the street, you don't get the well considered first point, just the finger wagging second point, and I object to laws passed on that basis.

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Jan 3Liked by Kate Crawford

I respect the libertarian impulse but the hostility on this comment should come down by like 700 percent. Swearing at the intern is not a good look (nor would be swearing at our host!).

Substantively, I think there is a difference between the state regulating *gambling* and regulating *advertising*. One is stopping people from trying to trick you into something you were not seeking and/or annoying you with a bunch of unwelcome ads. The other is as you describe stopping consensual contracts.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

The swearing is really only intended to convey the mildest of hostility, but, despite the lack of specific significance of the sports betting issue, this really is a case where the proposed position is crossing a big bright red line into government aggression. You straight up don't get to use the government to tell people they can't do something just cause you don't like it. It's not a question of degree. It's not an empirical disagreement. Them's fightin words.

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I would've whole-heartedly agreed with this sentiment and tone when I was a teenager.

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Yes. It’s a distinctly black-and-white kind of thinking disillusionment from from which we associate with adulthood.

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[thought better of it.]

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The directionally libertarian impulse to say "we're adults here, are you _sure_ you should block me from doing it?" is very useful.

As I recall, Hillary Clinton was very much in favor of banning violent video games. A lot of people said that it desensitized people to violence/encouraged it. Thankfully none of that happened, and research has suggested that it doesn't actually do those things.

What we _do_ have is a voluntary rating system by the industry (like the MPAA) - ESRB in the states, PEGI in Europe that I recommend to parents when they're deciding what to let their children play (and on the Switch I let my kids use, older games are blocked behind parental controls by default - but I have enabled a specific one in the past where I personally felt it was ok for them)

Yes, you can take _any_ ideology too far, but there's a big bar to be before we tell adults "you can't do this thing because we say it's bad"

Ignoring that and calling him a toddler/teenager is unlikely to change his mind (or the minds of others who somewhat agree with him)

(I'm support making advertising harder for this stuff, and I think Dave Coffin takes his stance too far, but I'm also sympathetic to his gut feeling about it)

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>> and research has suggested that it doesn't actually do those things.

But isn’t that the key? If research shows it’s actually harmful I’d be open for certain regulations (age, severity of content etc) wouldn’t you?

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Sort of.

My point is that the impulse to NOT ban things despite people thinking "this stuff seems bad" was very useful while research caught up. The impulse should not be mocked, even if it you can of course take it to far.

To your question:

If research _had_ shown it actually caused the worst problems that the fearmongers stated - i.e. significantly increased violent tendencies - that would have strong externalities and we should consider what to do about it, which might include various restrictions.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

I agree freedom is should be the default position. It’s just that that should merely be the opening of the conversation not the end of it.

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deletedJan 3
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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

Funnily enough, video games have become a far stronger example of a place where addictive RNG business models have utterly compromised the product than sports betting is.

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I'd actually kind of expected some reference to rebukes and (proposed? don't remember if passed) legislation against "lootboxing" and similar practices, since it's pure gambling with just the thinnest of digital fig leaves. Real-world examples within living memory! Unlike Prohibition or whatever...and in that case, there was a pretty strong within-industry + from-players consensus that This Is Bad, Actually, And Everyone Knows It. But it's so tempting to pursue the long tail of whale profits...(which was also absent from this piece, oddly)

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Weirdly, I both agree with you about video games, and firmly believe that Magic: the Gathering, which is an RNG business model in its purest form, is the greatest game ever created.

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I'm at a point where I just think video games in general have gotten way too addictive and turned into a time suck for a lot of people but because they don't destroy people's lives in the way that, say, drugs or gambling or other vices do we're just sort of okay with it even though it's not too difficult to draw the through-line from playing video games too much to toxic online communities.

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I've actually seen video games do seriously bad damage to a person's life, including direct financial damage. Games are moving to in-game purchase models and catering to customers who will spend to win

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Social media even more-so. I think what China's doing on both fronts is defensible.

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I work in games and I _also_ feel similarly.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

Ads aside (for which I think a normal nuisance case can be made to restrict consistent with libertarian principles) and speaking as a pretty libertarian type guy myself, I think “addictive stuff that has problem users / whale markets” is something I experience as a real challenge to my principles.

Seems like a really strong utilitarian case for restricting but doesn’t fall neatly into any of my usual conceptual buckets for “the government can send guys with guns to restrict this” like violence, property crimes, and solutions to true collective action problems e.g. over fishing.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

Right, and I'm not taking the AnCap position here. I don't have a problem with the feds directing resources towards helping people out of the holes they dig themselves into. Addiction recovery is absolutely a worthy investment of gov resources, it's the prior restraint of totally functional adults that is an outright aggression against individual rights. The kind that gets justly opposed by force, no matter how petty the choices in question.

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"I don't object to government paying for people's treatment after they get into car accidents. It's the prior restraint of totally functional adults from driving as fast they'd like on the roads that is an outright aggression against individual rights."

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That is not an apt analogy. Gambling mostly hurts oneself. Speeding cars (and nukes!) kill third parties.

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Coffin isn't limiting his discussion to why gambling should be legalized. He's making principled arguments about the organization of societies.

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Why is “mostly” the relevant threshold in a thread chock full of deontological arguments? (Nevermind that this standard would already call for legalized fentanyl)

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I also find the "mostly" entirely inaccurate. Anyone who says that gambling only hurts the gambler has likely not actually seen the impacts of gambling addiction. I know one guy who stole from work to feed his gambling addiction and was sentenced to 18 months in jail. The theft was from District benefits programs, so the victims included SNAP and TANF recipients. Even more directly, his wife declared bankruptcy and his about-to-enter college kids couldn't afford to go to college without taking out loans. I had 2 friends from high school who each stole tens of thousands of dollars from their parents to finance their addiction, which ripped those families apart. There are huge external costs to gambling addiction.

But that's all irrelevant to our comments because Coffin isn't arguing that the issue is with regulating gambling. He's arguing that regulating gambling is wrong because ANY "prior restraint of totally functional adults. . . is an outright aggression against individual rights." And he goes further, arguing that force is justified "no matter how petty the choices in question."

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Fentanyl and other addictive stuff is a good analogy. Speeding is not.

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I feel like I stepped into a 2008 Internet portal, when do we get to civilian ownership of nukes?

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<David Hahn has entered the chat.>

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I have a lot of comment history about how our traffic laws are kinda incoherent, but to the extent they're justified it's by the threat your car poses to the stuff outside it, not inside.

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I think the broader problem is that one you grant that addiction is in the realm of the State to control, there's nothing left to fight over. The category of "things people do to themselves that could have bad tertiery effects" is a huge part of social life.

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Jan 4·edited Jan 4

I think there is a genuine and identifiable difference between markets where most of the money is made from addicts and problem users in whom a compulsion has been cultivated (often chemically) and those where a product has downsides but isn’t dependent on addicts and whales. These are pretty rare, and not actually that hard to spot.

By analogy, there is a difference between markets which have features that allow for actual monopoly rents because of very effective moats (energy transmission and other stuff that ends up as a utility today [this is why they do end up as such] for example) and those where the being large and cutthroat isn’t actually anticompetitive in a anti consumer sense (retail for example).

Obviously risk for government overreach in both (and indeed all) cases—you always risk some Lisa Kahn figure using regulatory tools to address other markets that shouldn’t actually qualify as Addition Protection Bureau chief or whatever. But that doesn’t mean there is a difference in principle nor does it mean you shouldn’t try. I am glad we have the Sherman Act even if Kahn is bad at her job. I think there is an antitrust like consumer and market protection case to be made for addiction markets too (maybe—per above I have not figured out how to make it myself).

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In the same, mildly-hostile-while-laughing, spirit: Fuck your libertarian shithole.

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It's the type of language I'd expect from a couple of Philadelphians arguing with each other!

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founding

I think there’s actually a very strong autonomy-preserving argument in favor of regulation around willpower-destroying behaviors, even when those regulations result in some other usually-unwanted reductions in autonomy. It’s usually considered a bad reduction in people’s freedom to tie them to the mast, but when Odysseus knew he was going to hear the Sirens’ song, he ordered his crew to tie him up, in order to preserve his current (and future) will to survive over the temporary change he expected to have while under the influence. His sailors engaged in a different tradeoff of one autonomy for a bigger one - they just stopped up their ears so they couldn’t hear the song.

Most addicts freely admit at most points in their life that they don’t like their addictive behavior, and they wish they didn’t do it. Banning the behavior, or banning the ads so they don’t get tempted into the behavior, would thus be an *improvement* in their autonomy, because it would help them do more of what they earnestly want to do, even if it restricts the actions of their time slices that are in the throes of addiction.

People who haven’t yet experienced the addiction might not feel this way. But if their future selves reliably enough come to this viewpoint after they’re far gone, then it seems to me that the policy is justified on autonomy-preserving grounds, even if lots of people think they feel like you.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

I think this is a much stronger take when we're talking about addictive neurochemical substances. I don't think you can plausibly extend it to behavioral conditioning, or even like, food where you're arguably in a middle ground. At that point you're just giving the state license to dictate every sort of behavioral preference. I still don't think that even in the strongest case the public interest overcomes the rights of law abiding citizens to make their own choices.

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founding

I don’t think the strength of this take depends on whether it’s a neurochemical substance or something else. And my take doesn’t depend on public interest at all. My take says that if *you* yourself can be reasonably predicted to wish retroactively that we had banned you from doing this thing (or regulated in some other way) then it is an enhancement of the rights of law abiding citizens to make their own choices that we put you under this ban or restriction right now, because that is *your* choice we are helping you make.

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I don't think that's right, even if you could reasonably predict such a thing, I don't think future you's preference is any more legitimate than present you's.

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Future you is no *more* legitimate than present you - but it is *equally* legitimate, and there are thousands of it (unless you kill yourself early, which they would mostly vote against).

The important question to me is how reasonably we can predict such a thing. Addictions and suicide are two that we often can reasonably predict.

I know that some abortion opponents impose waiting periods in the name of the same reasoning, but I think that they are factually wrong, and imposing the waiting periods in bad ways. I don't disagree with them that this is the kind of thing that could be justified in the name of preservation of autonomy.

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Do you save money? Like, at all? Why? After all, you could spend that money on your own gratification right now, and "future you's preference is [no] more legitimate than present you's".

Any sort of long-term project involves privileging the future over the present, and the good life is surely a long-term project.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

Present you thinks you should prioritize the future is different from future you using hindsight to second guess past choices.

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Jan 4·edited Jan 4

People are just bags of chemicals though. Does it matter if the addictive chemical is exogenous rather than produced by the endocrine system if the result is the same?

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Just spitballing here - what if there was some regulation that required gambling companies to keep a centralized "Don't let me gamble list" and a way for users (whether that's on an app or at a casino) to add themselves to said list? Perhaps with a way to remove themselves that's slightly annoying.

So for example if I download the draftkings app but realize I have a problem, I check the "nope this is bad for me" box and now I can not bet on their app or any others. To get off the list I have to send a certified letter to some agency and wait a week.

I'm generally pretty resistant to gambling restrictions but I would be fine with something like that. Just trying to think of a way to reduce the worst harms in a way that's acceptable to others who feel similarly. I've only put like 5 minutes of thought into this though so I don't feel strongly about it.

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founding

Yeah, this sounds like a good idea, with some appropriate safeguards for who can put you on or off the list. Mark Kleiman had a similar idea for marijuana legalization - states should maintain lists with a monthly maximum for each purchaser, which would start at some reasonable value, and which people could adjust however they want, though with a lag if they raise it.

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Kind of a dick move by Odysseus to only let himself hear the heavenly music while his sailors (most of whom big O gets eaten) have to stop up their ears and keep working.

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This is pretty much irrefutable when you realize free will is an illusion.

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I really wish folks with the libertarian impulse on this issue would engage with the gambling industry as it actually is instead of as some sort of abstract extraneous choice that people are making to engage with. Online books have inserted themselves into the fabric of sports and entertainment in a very sudden and inescapable way.

They are recruiting icons of the sport to imply that the best way to be a sports fan is not just to bet on the games, but actually bet on the games in the way that is most likely for fans to lose money. You can read the reports Fanduel and Draftkings give their investors, and they are bragging about how high their "parlay share" is, at the same time they are paying Bill Simmons to tell his fans how smart it is to make parlays (and teases).

Generally I think free market economics is strongest in the case of a win/win. In these cases the producer and consumer are negotiating over how to split a surplus. But in sports gambling it's a pure zero sum situation--the books make more money when they screw consumers more. And proliferation of books/increasing in competition just results in more innovation in how to screw consumers more and more. In this case, the calculus of "the government can't tell me what to do" becomes a lot more complicated since the entire industry exists to make things worse for people.

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Yea, as I said below, the saturation of guilt-ridden assaults on fandom masquerading as ads is insane. I am profoundly glad that I don't give a flying fuck about sports of any kind, because the pressure to waste money on it is omnipresent in my media market.

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Luckily for you, it does not look like the Eagles will make nearly as long of a run as they did last season.

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Yay! Quiet! Blessed quiet!

If this account ever gets doxxed my neighbors will hate me, but my most earnest wish each fall is for us to get completely bent over and not even make the playoffs so the weekly screaming sessions stop in January.

Suffice it to say, when the third story goes up I am going to be doing some soundproofing of the party wall on the second story, and having all the second-story windows replaced with the same high-end triple glazed ones that are going in the third story.

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Jan 4·edited Jan 4

This whole topic is definitely a huge implicit vindication for people who use the term "sportsball."

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Agreed. I can't stand the authoritarian impulse to cut off the supply of something I don't like.

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founding

It’s not about “don’t like” - it’s about “the people who use it will later beg you, ‘why didn’t you stop me?’”

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If I’m not mistaken, America (at least certain states) has banned various vices, including gambling, for the entirety of its existence. So where does this “the state doesn’t get to” and “this is America” come from?

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I agree that the puritanical cultural impulse has always been as much a part of America as the liberal pluralist political one.

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So what makes the liberal (or libertarian) side legitimate and the puritanical side “fuck you”-level illegitimate? I note the Founders explicitly prohibited bans on speech but not on gambling, vice, use of narcotics, etc.--doesn’t that suggest that they believed such bans could have a use? Which doesn’t mean they were right, but again, maybe you don’t have quite the level of “don’t tread on me” moral authority you think you do?

I’m basically “the bums will always lose” about this. Libertarianism has never been the majority and I believe it never will be, because people want limits that make society run smoother. I note that when Californians got to vote directly on two different propositions to legalize sports betting in the state, we voted them both down overwhelmingly.

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Jan 3·edited Jan 3

Precisely. I was (as another commenter pointed out) a pretty hardcore libertarian at the age of