John Stossel

Did you fill out a March Madness bracket this year? In many states, if you put money in a pool, that's illegal!

The NCAA website warns, "Fans should enjoy ... filling out a bracket just for the fun of it, not ... the amount of money they could possibly win."

Give me a break. Americans bet more money on March Madness this year than on the Super Bowl.

Politicians can't quite make up their minds about gambling: They approve certain casinos and promote state lotteries but crack down on sports bets and some charity poker games. It seems that government dislikes gambling, unless government gets to be the house.

Increasingly, government is. After locking up bookies for "dangerous and criminal" activities, like running "numbers rackets," most states now offer much worse odds in state lotteries. Then they take money from taxpayers to advertise their scams.

Some states even run commercials that mock hard work, pushing the benefits of a long-shot jackpot. Poor people become poorer, because they buy most of the lottery tickets. Then politicians brag how money from the lottery helps the poor. It's disgusting hypocrisy.

Politicians award casino permits to politically connected businessmen who make most of their money from slot machines that offer miserable odds. But when "unapproved" websites offered Internet poker, at far better odds, the federal government charged the operators with "money laundering" and shut the sites down.

Recently, three states noticed that people like Internet gambling so much that millions of dollars leave America and go to overseas websites. So New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada begged federal officials for permission to legalize some Internet betting and got it. Now other states may do it, too.

A group called the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling wants to prevent legalization. It warns: "gambling will be available in every home, every bedroom, every dorm room, on every phone, tablet and computer!"

It's revealing that its ads are funded by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. He doesn't mind you gambling, obviously. He just wants you to go to casinos, like those he happens to own.

Government, just as hypocritical, invites people to buy lottery tickets while simultaneously stamping out rival forms of gambling and warning us of the damage gambling can do.

And, yes, gambling hurts some people. Some wreck their lives and gamble away their life savings. How many gamblers? That's not clear. Maybe 2 percent, say critics of gambling.

But Patrick Basham of the Cato Institute argues that gambling is often a symptom rather than a cause.


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