John Stossel

I like to bet on sports. Having a stake in the game, even if it's just five bucks, makes it more exciting. I also like playing poker. "Unacceptable!" say politicians in much of America. "Gambling sometimes leads to 'addiction,' destitute families!"

Well, it can.

So politicians ban it. It's why we no longer see a poker game in the back of bars. Half the states even ban poker between friends -- though they rarely enforce that.

After banning things, politicians' second favorite activity is granting special privileges to a few people who do those same things -- so big casinos flourish, and most states run their own lotteries. Running lotteries is one of the more horrible things our governments do. The poor buy the most tickets, and states offer them terrible odds. The government entered the lottery business promising to end the "criminal numbers racket." Now states do what the "criminals" did but offer much worse odds. Adding insult to their scam, politicians also spend our tax money promoting lotteries with disgusting commercials that trash hard work, implying that happiness comes from hedonism.

Hypocrisy.

Politicians also ban some medical innovations that might enhance athletes' performances. Teams buy high-tech equipment to get better results. Doctors prescribe all sorts of special medications if an athlete is injured. Competitors try dubious vitamins and "natural" food supplements.

But they better not use steroids.

The public supports this ban, but they rarely think it through. Why are steroids bad but eye surgery OK? (Tiger Woods did that to improve his vision.) Athletes will constantly try new ways to maximize their strength and endurance. Why is government even involved?

Don't get me wrong. If players promise not to use steroids but then use, that's wrong. Lance Armstrong is despicable not because he injected drugs like testosterone or did blood-doping, but because he proclaimed that he didn't, then did, then lied and bullied people, and threatened to sue them, to wreck their lives, for telling the truth. That's evil. Steroids themselves are just another form of eye surgery or better shoes.

If the NFL or Tour de France or the Big Ten wants a no-steroid rule, fine. But in America, if an athlete uses steroids, it's not just a violation of a private organization's rules, it's a federal issue. Congress has held nine -- that's right, nine -- hearings on the "problem" of steroids in sports. The pols know that yelling at baseball stars will get the pols face time on TV. There they are, bravely solving America's problems! But clumsy federal law doesn't even stop the cheating.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate