Pay your money and take your seat

Here is a curious moment of What to do, what to do?

In the current issue of Tobacco Control there is an article entitled: Jonathan T. Macy & Erika L. Hernandez, “The impact of a local smoke-free air law on wagering at an off-track betting facility in Indiana,” Tobacco Control (online March 22, 2011) (abstract; article behind paywall). The authors say that they used “[r]egression analysis … to compare the trend in per capita amount wagered at an OTB location that went smoke-free to the trend in per capita amount wagered at two comparison OTB locations that continued to permit smoking. Unemployment rate was included as a covariate.” What they found was that people continued to wager just as much at smoke-free OTBs than at those permitting smoking. They urge this study as a reason to include OTBs among the establishments where smoking is prohibited by law.

The question is, why should policy makers make decisions based on maximizing the gambling of their citizens? Let’s take a look at another paper: John W. Welte, Grace M. Barnes, Marie-Cecile O. Tidwell & Joseph H. Hoffman, “Gambling and Problem Gambling Across the Lifespan,” 27 Journal of Gambling Studies 49-61 (March 2011) (abstract; article behind paywall) shows that after age 21, problem gambling is considerably more common among U.S. adults than alcohol dependence. Researchers at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions compared two national telephone surveys: a survey of 2,631 adults in 1999–2000 and one of 2,274 youth aged 14-18 in 2005–2007 and found that gambling problems did not peak at an early age, as suspected. In fact, alcohol involvement peaks at a younger age than gambling involvement.

Combining the two studies, it seems the better public policy would be to shut down the OTB locations or at least get the government out of the business of promoting them. But of course it looks like each journal has its own axe to grind. Such is life in 21st century America.

I’m wondering, however, how these journals expect that any policy maker is going to see their conclusions. Both of the papers (and most of the other papers in the two journals, dedicated to studying two public health and behavior problems) are behind pay walls. Do the editors and authors really believe that a law-maker is going to pay to make informed legislation? Don’t they understand that in our new Republic, where money is speech, and corporations are citizens, the way laws are made require the people with an interest to pay the politician, not the politician to pay the people with an interest?

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