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Posted by on May 14, 2018 in Blog, Essays | 3 comments

Winners and Losers in the SCOTUS Decision to Allow Legalized Sports Gambling

 

 

Today, the United States Supreme Court struck down a federal law which prohibited most states from allowing legalized gambling on sporting events.

By a 6-3 vote, the high court’s ruling overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which was a 1992 law that banned state-authorized sports gambling (aside from Nevada).

What does this ruling mean?  Well, it’s really good news for sports gamblers.  It’s even better news for many states and companies with the infrastructure to begin offering sports betting.  And, it’s fabulous news for the State of New Jersey, and especially Atlantic City, which has experienced a steady decline in popularity as a recreational gambling destination over the last 20 years.

Here’s my list of the winners and losers in today’s historic decision which is expected to drastically alter the American sports gambling landscape.

 

WINNERS:

Recreational Sports Gamblers — Amateur bettors will soon have the option of making a legal wager within a licensed and regulated environment.  Recreational bettors who might previously have been skittish about placing a bet with an illegal bookie or depositing money into an offshore betting account, can now conveniently step up to the betting window at a local casino, place a wager, and expect to get paid quickly assuming the bet wins.  For the first time, sports bettors will be respected as legitimate consumers.  They will be entitled to the same protections as other citizens engaged in commercial transactions, rather than treated as outlaws.

Professional Sports Gamblers — There’s serious concern that some states might impose a so-called 1-percent “integrity fee” atop all sports wagers.  This is potentially quite problematic given the narrow margins of profit for even the most successful sports handicappers.  That said, as some states begin to legalize sports wagering, expect an increase in the overall betting handle.  In the long term (as more populous states come on board), expect a substantial increase in sports wagering, leading to what’s known as “public money.”  This means more casual wagering inside the overall betting pool, which typically translates into pointspreads that reflect mainstream biases.  Sharps tend to take advantage of inflated lines and inaccurate perceptions about teams and players.  In short, the more uninformed bettors there are in any market, the greater the advantages for the most skilled and disciplined bettors.

New Jersey/Atlantic City — As more states have legalized casino gambling, especially in the heavy-populated Northeast, Atlantic City’s market share of overall gaming revenues has declined substantially.  One-third of Atlantic City’s casinos have shut down.  Some casinos even declared bankruptcy.  Now, given the Supreme Court landmark decision which gives New Jersey a green light to offer sports betting, expect a flow of traffic back towards the Jersey Shore, especially this coming fall when NFL games kick-off.  For the first time in history, citizens within the Garden State (and from nearby states including Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, and Virginia which are within driving distance) will be able to walk into casinos in New Jersey and legally bet on sporting events.  The same holds true for Delaware, which will also get a boost from legalized sports gambling, particularly from heavily-populated surrounding states.

States (Education and Other Programs) — Most state budgets are desperate for tax revenue.  This is why many states have legalized casino gambling over the past 25 years.  Taxing gambling profits supports many vital state agencies and important programs, especially relating to education.  Soon, states will reap additional revenues from taxes collected on profits from sports gambling.  Accordingly, they won’t be as pressed to raise taxes elsewhere to maintain essential services and protections.

The NBA — Credit NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for being the first head of a major sports league to see the future and face obvious realities connected to the public interest in major sporting events.  A few years ago, Silver announced his support for legalized sports gambling, including fully licensed and regulated wagering on NBA games.  Silver clearly understands what drives fan interest at many sporting events.  Rather than deny realities as all the other leagues have done for many decades, Silver and the NBA embraced the proposal of fans being able to bet on their games.  Look for an uptick in interest in daily/nightly sporting events (NBA, NHL, MLB) since more fans will watch sporting events because of a personal financial interest in the outcome.

States’-Rights Advocates — “States’-rights” has been a pillar of conservative political philosophy for more than a century.  However, as federal powers have gradually increased, states have seen their responsibilities reduced in some matters of governance.  The high court’s decision reaffirms the rights of states to dictate their own policies on matters such as gambling, taxation, and morality.  Instead of a blanket ban against sports betting (outside of Nevada), which had been the law of the land, each state now has the option to make their own laws, and establish their own regulatory and taxation framework.

Fantasy Sports Companies — Fantasy sports companies made a big splash a few years ago when they overreached and bombarded the networks with an annoying number of bad television commercials, initially leading to explosive growth, followed by a legal crackdown on their quasi-legal activities within some jurisdictions.  With sports gambling soon becoming legal, fantasy sports companies — namely DraftKings/FanDuel — are perfectly positioned to transition into legal full-service sportsbooks.  These companies also have existing deals with many professional sports teams.  It remains to be seen exactly how they will shift operations into key states where the competition to run sports gambling operations will be intense.  However, fantasy sports companies already have millions of customers in their databases and some measure of brand loyalty, which provides obvious strategic advantages.

Professional Sports Franchises — Let’s face it.  There’s not much mainstream interest in a game between two losing teams with lots of bad players.  But add the sizzle of gambling on the game, and suddenly, the matchup becomes exciting to watch for most viewers.  Since team sports began, franchises have relied solely on their local fan bases for financial sustenance — in terms of ticket sales, merchandising, and revenues from television rights.  Accordingly, many franchises have struggled.  Some teams have moved to other cities hoping for greener pastures.  Sports gambling is the great equalizer.  It gives bad teams the potential to be watched and enjoyed with just as much enthusiasm as premier games.  Television ratings will increase across the board on all sporting events connected to gambling.  This means more revenues going to the teams and higher franchise values.

Sports Networks/News Sites/Media — Sports betting is largely predicated on access to reliable and up-to-date information.  A broader sports gambling landscape means an increasing flow of traffic to networks, programs, news sites, and periodicals which provide subject matter primarily of interest to gamblers.  Many sports fans won’t be content any longer with simple sports coverage or mundane personality-driven talk shows.  Instead, they’ll be seeking out more hard data and breaking news which could impact the outcome of a game.  Look for sports broadcasts to openly refer to spreads and totals for the first time, since a substantial percentage of viewers and listeners are focused on that element of coverage.  Since a rising tide lifts all boats, more viewers watching games on television and clicking various websites translates into an increase in traffic and advertising revenues.

 

LOSERS:

Offshore Sportsbooks — Sportsbooks located outside the United States, particularly those based in Central America and the Caribbean, have filled the void of the vast sports gambling appetite.  Since most Americans can’t wager legally on sporting events, millions were forced to bet through illegal bookies and/or offshore.  Now, as an increasing number of states are destined to offer their own legal sports betting markets, the demand for offshore sportsbooks will slowly decrease.  Most offshore sportsbooks won’t able to compete with the convenience of local casinos and quick, reliable payouts much closer to home.  Expect several smaller sportsbooks which rely heavily on the American market to go out of business, unless they offer reduced vig and other perks which appeal to most sports gamblers.  By contrast, increased competition translates into more options and better value for most gamblers/consumers.

Anti-Gambling Crusaders (Religious Fundamentalists) — The religious right and behavioral moralists have been proven dead wrong on just about every gambling issue since casinos began sprouting up all over the country.  Their dire warnings of increased crime and other ills supposedly associated with greater access to gambling were unfounded.  Thoroughly discredited on the gambling issue (and just about every moral issue), anti-gambling crusaders have been debunked and defanged to the point of political and cultural irrelevance.  As tens of millions of Americans wake up every Sunday morning, they won’t be attending church.  They’ll be far more interested in wagering on the day’s football games.  Stike another blow to the 19th Century puritans who have run out of arguments against legalized gambling and are being tossed onto the ash heap of history.  Bury them.  They’re done.

The NFL — The NFL remains the undisputed king when it comes to American sports gambling.  Anticipated legalization in many states will come despite their vigorous objections, kicking and screaming against legalized gambling for decades.  Over and over again, the NFL has repeatedly handled its public relations crisis horribly — whether it’s been player misbehavior/reinstatement, the CTE scandal, the National Anthem controversy, ripping off taxpayers to build new stadiums, and so forth.  Here’s yet another black eye and kick in the ass to a league that remains absurdly popular despite gross mismanagement and outright hypocrisy.

The NCAA — The NCAA is the most corrupt organization in sports.  It reaps obscene profits solely at the expense of student-athletes.  It pays its fatcat commissioners, athletic directors, and shady bowl presidents absurd salaries while all the risks are taken by an uncompensated and often exploited labor force.  It’s criminal what’s happening.  Fortunately, the NCAA was dealt an embarrassing defeat and now must face the reality that millions of Americans will soon be betting on their games, whether they like it, or not.  Hooray!

 

Winners and Losers?

Other Casino Games — Who wants to play keno or roulette when pretty soon you can walk into a casino and bet $20 on a ballgame, instead?  Studies find that most gamblers, especially millennials, like to feel as though they have some measure of control over the outcome of a bet.  Unlike most casino games where the action/results are random, sports betting will become an increasing attraction since the gambler’s decision matters.  New sportsbooks could divert traffic flow from the casino floor.  However, a strong case can be made that since sports betting will attract new customers to casinos, some gamblers will gravitate to games like keno, roulette, craps, blackjack, and the slots.  Hence, legalized sports gambling appears to be an uncertain win-lose proposition for other casino games.

Illegal Bookmakers — At first glance, bookies might seem to be the biggest losers when sports gambling becomes legal.  The reasons are obvious.  Bettors won’t have to rely on the illegal gambling market if a viable legal option is accessible.  Moreover, expect the heat to be turned up on illegal bookies since local law enforcement will be tasked with reducing the competition for gambling dollars.  In the long run, however, bookies might actually enjoy a boost.  Since most bookies extend credit to their customers, this presents a huge advantage.  If the sports gambling market increases (and it will), gradually many new bettors will become enticed by betting on credit rather than fronting money.  Hence, bookies might gain more customers.  Bookies might also be able to take advantage of significant pointspread differences in various betting markets.

Online Gambling/Online Poker — Good News:  Given that PASPA was declared unconstitutional, it’s now going to be next to impossible for the federal government to impose similar prohibitions against casino games and poker played online.  This should finally once and for all kill various bills proposed in Congress which might have outlawed online poker (and gambling games).  Bad News:  Don’t expect online poker or gambling games to get any boost in traffic, however.  In fact, interest and traffic could decline since gambling dollars will increasingly find their way into casino sportsbooks instead of in online poker accounts.  There’s only so many gambling dollars in the market available and if New Jersey and other states open up their betting windows, some percentage of the money used to buy sports tickets will come from other gambling ventures — probably, online poker and casino games.

_____

 

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Posted by on Feb 19, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Rants and Raves, What's Left | 9 comments

The Worst Idea in Response to School Shootings

 

 

Ten Solid Reasons Why the Proposal to “Put More Guns in Schools” is a Really Bad Idea

 

Many suggestions are floating around about the ways we might stop mass shootings and reduce gun violence in our schools.

Some of these ideas are rational and resourceful.  Most are well-intended.  However, a few suggestions currently spreading across social media are so dangerous that they must be resisted and flat-out rejected.

Unquestionably, the very worst idea of all is to put more guns into schools.  This is ludicrous.

Two specific proposals are now gaining traction with many gun advocates.  One proposal is to arm classroom teachers.  The other is to hire and train more security personnel, a force presumably to be comprised of former and retired military personnel and law enforcement.

A narrow examination of gun violence in schools may give a false impression that arming those who can best be trusted to handle the responsibility is a logical defense.  If only some teacher had a handgun, he/she might have been able to kill the deadly student intruder who murdered 17 students in Parkland, Florida.  The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun — the popular saying goes.

Trouble is, the issue of gun violence in schools isn’t so simple.  In fact, preventing any of the 465 deadly shootings that have occurred in American schools requires far more than just additional firepower.  Moreover, putting more guns into the hands of civilians would inevitably lead to far more gun accidents, deadly acts of escalating violence, and a multitude of other unforeseeable consequences.  Either proposal would also cost taxpayers a fortune at a time when many municipalities and school districts are going broke and we can’t find enough money to pay teachers a livable wage.

In short, the notion that introducing more guns to solve the gun and mental health problem in schools is preposterous.  Here are ten reasons why:

[1]  It’s not a deterrent:  Proponents of arming school teachers and/or hiring more security personnel incorrectly assume emotionally-disturbed mass murderers are deterred by a show of force.  However, based on virtually every school shooting and mass killing in modern American history, this has proven to be demonstrably false.  Most crazed shooters had a death wish.  Even during the planning stages, most knew they were going to die in the final blaze of gunfire.  It’s one reason why many killers wore bullet-proof vests.  Would-be mass murderers with complicated mental problems do not think, nor act logically.  Increasing the number of armed people at schools will not deter a madman.

[2]  Most schools are too big to patrol efficiently:  Proponents overstate the chances armed security would successfully catch and confront a suspect before the shooting starts.  Most schools, especially high schools where recent massacres have taken place, are large multi-story buildings with lots of space to patrol.  They have numerous classrooms and corridors, with multiple entrances and exits.  Unless we station a National Guard unit inside every school in America, the vast majority of campuses are vulnerable and cannot be protected against a deranged gunman who is determined to kill.

[3]  It’s impossible to defend against the element of surprise:  Proponents mistakenly assume that teachers and security personnel would be able to maintain a perpetual “ready” status against an attack.  More likely, over time, most schools would become complacent about security details, which is only natural.  After all, children attend school to learn and socialize, not be fearful and remain in a constant state of alert against being murdered.  Millions of guns in the hands of math teachers is no defense against the element of surprise.  Even the most powerful armies in the world with the best-trained soldiers have frequently been caught off guard and attacked.  Schools, with hundreds of students, constantly coming and going and moving about are not places where armed protection is practical or feasible.

[4]  Accidents will happen:  There are approximately 3.4 million school teachers in America.  Arming a sizable number of them would inevitably result in an incalculable number of accidents.  Many teachers are unfamiliar with guns.  They know little about gun safety.  Even with proper training, mistakes will happen.  After all, everyone passes a driving test, but there are still thousands of bad, unsafe drivers on the road and traffic accidents happen every day.  Hence, training provides no guarantees.  Loaded guns will occasionally get lost, stolen, or commandeered.  People are imperfect.  They’re forgetful.  Adding millions of loaded guns into schools is a recipe for disaster.

[5]  Many schools are already violent; adding guns will make things worse:   Last year, about 200,000 teachers were physically attacked by students.  Now, imagine if each of those teachers was carrying a loaded handgun.  What would happen in some cases when an older, possibly fragile teacher gets assaulted by an angry teen with an emotional disorder or behavioral problem?  Out of the 200,000 actual attacks last year, some percentage of violent teens would likely have wrestled a gun from the teacher if he/she was armed.  Then, what might have happened?  In a rage, some students would kill teachers and other students.  This kind of nightmare scenario would become commonplace if guns were placed inside classrooms.

[6]  Armed security personnel would also be prone to more gun accidents:  Proponents presume that armed patrols at schools, largely made up of people with strong military and law enforcement backgrounds, would be responsible with guns.  They’re right.  Most would be responsible.  However, some would not.  Statistics show that in incidents when police officers were shot, about 8 percent were hit by their own gun.  When physical confrontations occur, sometimes the bad guys get control of a weapon and fire in the heat of the moment.  Schools tend to have more physical altercations than the rest of society.  Arming security guards isn’t a solution to reducing violence.  It would likely increase the number of accidents.

[7]  Inexperienced people with guns are more likely to create collateral damage:  Many teachers and security guards would attempt to do the right thing and be brave in case of an attack.  Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority lack the training and skill set to make a quick life-or-death decision in the midst of a crisis.  Imagine the number of incidents where teachers and security perceive a threat that isn’t really there?  How might a teacher react to a student swinging a knife, for instance?  What to do?  Then, what about the rare occasion when a shot is justifiable as an act of self-defense?  Is putting a gun into the hands of a 59-year-old English teacher in a crowded classroom filled with screaming children really a solution to a maniac blasting with a loaded AR-15?  Chances are, guns will be pulled out and shot by people lacking the skills to use them, likely killing more innocents.

[8]  The human breakage factor:  Sadly, most people have personal troubles.  We all carry emotional problems to work.  We all have family problems occasionally.  Like everyone else from truck drivers to postal workers, teachers and security personnel are just as vulnerable to emotional breakdowns, sometimes even more prone to stressful environments.  They go through painful divorces.  They suffer from depression.  They have drug and alcohol issues.  Some people can’t take it and simply break.  Putting millions of guns into the hands of any segment of society is a bad idea, but particularly dangerous when around many children.  The number of opioid abuses in this country numbers in the millions.  The number of veterans suffering from some form of PTSD is perhaps incalculable and a national embarrassment.  Some of those who would prospectively be hired would also suffer from these problems.  Arming more people will not reduce deaths.  It will create far worse tragedy.

[9]  The cost would be staggering:  The cost of buying and maintaining guns, ammunition, secure safes, and other necessary equipment would be high.  However, the cost of hiring perhaps a million security officers to staff and patrol more than a quarter-million schools in America would be outrageous.  Then, there’s the expense of training employees, oversight, and management —  not to mention the astronomical premium for insurance coverage (every school in the United States would have to carry insurance against gun accidents).  The budget for these proposals would most certainly bankrupt most school districts, providing no appreciable benefits.  Already, we’re having a hard time paying teachers and getting school supplies.  Burdening taxpayers with such a wasteful expense with so many other priorities would be grotesque negligence.

[10]  Schools are educational institutions, not military camps:  Schools are for education.  They aren’t military bases.  Moreover, we need to stop constructing our schools to look like prisons because when we do, students will behave like inmates.  Check out the exteriors of schools in most inner cities.  They look like fortresses.  Then, take a look at urban schools in Europe and other countries where education and social welfare are integrated into daily life — where student acts of violence are practically non-existent.  Armed teachers and security forces patrolling hallways with loaded weapons sends a disturbing message to young people.  It creates a false impression that guns are necessary in order to truly feel secure.  Sure, armed protection is necessary at some places, such as banks and airports.  Guns are the antithesis of an atmosphere for education.

So, arming teachers and hiring armed security patrols produces no deterrent to crazed shooters plotting an attack.  It inevitably creates more gun accidents during down times.  It fails to protect children in cases when actual shootings occur.  It costs a ridiculous amount of money we don’t have.  It sends a terrible message to our children.

Instead, a far better solution to gun violence is doing what we can to reduce the number of guns in our society and ending the pathological fascination with guns in our culture, once and for all.  The solution is to renounce destructive organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA), which time and time again squash all proposed measures of reasonable gun safety when they’re proposed.  The solution is to get politically active right now and vote for candidates who favor some restrictions on gun purchases and the rights of ownership.  The mentally-disturbed kid who murdered 17 teens purchased five guns within the past year — all legally.

That’s outrageous!

This is a tall task ahead of us.  It starts with a movement like we’re seeing from high school students in Parkland, who now say, “enough is enough.”

Gun violence in schools will not be reduced by arming our teachers nor by hiring ex-law enforcement to patrol the hallways.  More guns isn’t the solution any more than a blaze is extinguished by adding more fire.

 

ADDENDUM 1:  There’s actually another good reason, #11 (as noted by reader Stephen Blackstock)…..”Armed teachers make the job of first responders way more difficult and dangerous….first responders like SWAT teams do not know the scope of the threat.  Having an armed person in every classroom that has to be methodically cleared would be a nightmare.”

ADDENDUM 2:  There’s a #12.  Assuming proponents are correct, and armed school staff reduces gun violence, evidence points to mass murderers transferring their rage to attractive targets elsewhere — such as movie theaters. Armed schools won’t stop gun violence.  But it could make other public places more vulnerable.

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Posted by on Nov 21, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Politics | 4 comments

Blaming MGM (Mandalay Bay) for the Las Vegas Shooting is Absurd

 

 

My Thoughts on Victims and Survivors Suing Mandalay Bay: 

This lawsuit is absurd.  It has no merit whatsoever.  Hopefully, the legal case never reaches trial.  Hopefully, MGM and Live Nation refuse to settle out of court.  They did nothing wrong, and finding them guilty of any negligence sends the wrong message.  It also makes everyone’s lives more difficult and more expensive because, in the end, it’s we who end up paying the price.  We suffer the fallout.

 

It seems that everyone in America can sue anyone for any reason for any amount, no matter how frivolous the claim.

Consider the flurry of odious lawsuits that were filed today by an attorney representing victims and survivors of the horrific mass shooting which took place at an outdoor country music concert in Las Vegas on October 1st.

Reportedly, 450 plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court this afternoon, claiming gross negligence by MGM and Live Nation.  MGM owns the Mandalay Bay casino, where the shooter set up his base of terror that led to the deaths of 58 innocent people and seriously wounded hundreds more (heretofore in this article, Mandalay Bay will be referred to simply as “MGM”).  Live Nation is the event-planning company which organized and ran the music festival.  The estate of the dead shooter was also named as a co-defendant.

Before launching into my expected tirade, first a disclaimer or two.  Certainly, the victims and survivors of the tragedy should be seeking answers.  They are entitled to some measure of compensation, assuming others are guilty aside from the mass murderer who repeatedly pulled the trigger.  One can also understand such shocking and senseless loss might cause some people to think irrationally and even behave hysterically.  Those who suffered the most want someone to blame.  This is especially true in such a strange case where motivation still remains a mystery.

It’s easy to look at the big bad evil corporate empire that is MGM, get all bug-eyed, and go where the money is.  Accordingly, the casino becomes a convenient target with a bullseye in the shape of a dollar sign.  A personal note:  In the past, I’ve had my run-ins with MGM and there’s still no love lost between us (here’s an instance where the MGM stole $5,000 from me:  READ STORY HERE).  But that doesn’t mean MGM is negligent in this case, nor any other — nor do they deserve to be singled out as a guilty party because they collectively represent everything that’s gone wrong with Las Vegas, and their property just so happened to be the structure from where bullets were fired.  A determined shooter such as the maniac who inexplicably pulled off this terrible crime could have set up camp anywhere.

So, while survivors are entitled to legal recourse (no one denies they have a right to file a lawsuit) and corporations aren’t typically innocent in complex cases where many people have suffered an unfathomable loss (I’m no certainly champion of corporations), singling out MGM for negligence makes absolutely no sense at all.

Attorneys are going for a quick money grab.  They know MGM will not want to fight this battle in court, let alone the court of public opinion.  No one wants to see this thing drag out.  Weeping widows make for sympathetic plaintiffs, particularly when up against smarmy casino lawyers dressed in $1,800 suits trying to defend temples of vice which are essentially giant shakedown pits stoked with gambling and booze, even going so far as to enable and empower someone like the mass murder by treating him like a king.  The unscrupulous don’t elicit much empathy — either from the public or a jury.

Nonetheless, claiming the MGM property was negligent here is utterly absurd.  If found guilty, by such a standard, every high-rise hotel with a clear view of The Strip where mass gatherings are a common occurrence is also a potential eagle’s nest of terror.  Any glass window in town can be hammered out (which is easy), and the bullets can rain down.  There’s next to nothing anyone can do about it.

Oh sure.  Everyone screams about closing the barn door long after the cows have gone out to pasture.  We’ve heard the crying calls of lunacy for searching every hotel guest’s bags.  Installing metal detectors at all the hotels has been proposed.  This all makes about as much sense as asking 45,000,000 fliers a year to remove their shoes before boarding a plane — all because of one isolated incident (remember that worthless overreaction?).  Please.  Stop.

Yes indeed, there are ways to dissuade people like the Las Vegas mass shooter.  We could make it impossible, even.  We could search all the bags.  We could install metal detectors.  We could position security at every entrance and exit point.  We could have cameras on every hotel floor, even inside every room.  But who wants to live life like that?  Sure, there are places where security is so intense, so perfect, that there’s never a mass shooting.  It’s called North Korea.

Let’s get real, shall we?  Here’s just one outrageous claim noted in the civil lawsuit.  Plaintiffs insist the MGM should have installed “gunshot detection devices in hotel rooms.”  Gunshot detection devices?  In hotel rooms?  Is this really something that’s reasonable?  Gunshot detection devices in hotel rooms?  Even Motel 6?  Okay, maybe Motel 6.  But not the estimated 70,000 hotel rooms on The Strip.  Seriously.  Can you imagine?  How much would that add to the cost of a room with superfluous daily “resort fees” already $38 a pop?

Sorry, but I can’t get over this:  “Gunshot detection devices.”  Some idiot lawyer actually wrote that and inserted the phrase into the lawsuit.  I can’t even…..enough already.

Suing Live Nation, the concert organizer makes even less sense.  In fact, it’s preposterous.  The lawsuit alleges that there were not enough exits at the outdoor concert festival.  Oh, please.  The company also gets blamed for providing “inadequate training” to its security personnel.  I’m not sure what exactly the concert security staff were expected to do with thousands of rounds of live ammunition raining down from the dark sky.  A battalion of fully-armed and trained United States Marines would have had a difficult time stopping the carnage.

Think about it.  Thousands of people were gathered at an outdoor venue.  Music concerts like this happen all the time.  Some events take place at venues which were constructed many years ago, long before terrorism was a serious concern.  Many outdoor concerts aren’t particularly well-organized, and no one cares.  That’s part of the whole experience.  Hey — no one who went to Woodstock bitched about the crowds and lack of parking.

Live Nation is blamed for not having enough exits, as though people running in the streets outside the concert venue were any safer than those presumably stuck inside.  Fact:  They weren’t.  Sprays of bullets landed everywhere.  It wouldn’t have mattered if the venue had twice the number of exits.  The bullets didn’t discriminate based on who made it to the exits.  What a foolish claim.

As for security, what exactly was the concert company supposed to do — arm the patrols with bazookas?  Tanks?  If so, what would that have accomplished?  Plenty of Las Vegas Metro Police Officers were on the premises and patrolled surrounding area.  Despite all their training and expertise, they couldn’t stop the shooting.  So, how exactly do you “train” a $12-an-hour temp security detail to handle what amounted to an unprecedented, totally unforeseen ambush?  Train them to do what?  Escort the screaming and terrified concert attendees to the exits?

If the concert company is found guilty, it’s conceivable that no other outdoor music festivals can be held in the future.  The insurance premiums would be too high.  Moreover, between all the searches and security, we might as well turn our society into a police state.  This litigious charade must be exposed for the shakedown that it is.

So, if the casino and the concert organizers aren’t guilty, then — who is?

Easy answer:  A deranged madman.  Confiscate whatever is left of his property and divide it equally among the victims.  Then, never mention his name again.  Let Charles Manson fuck him in hell.

It won’t happen, of course, but I sure wish the primary defendants would countersue the plaintiffs, at least for their legal fees.  This lawsuit is absurd.  It has no merit whatsoever.  Hopefully, the case never reaches trial.  Hopefully, MGM and Live Nation refuse to settle out of court.

They did nothing wrong, and finding them guilty of any negligence sends the wrong message.  It also makes everyone’s lives more difficult and more expensive because in the end, it’s we who end up paying the price for the crimes of the criminal.

 

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Posted by on Nov 15, 2017 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays | 1 comment

Statute of Limitations

 

 

Does sin have an expiration date?  Should the statute of limitations apply differently to sexual misconduct versus crimes against humanity?  Does justice hold a ticking stopwatch?

 

A candidate for the United States Senate is alleged to have committed multiple offenses of sexual assault nearly four decades ago.  Should his misdeeds from many years earlier be relevant today?

A middle-aged man committed a brutal murder 25 years ago.  He was convicted and served a long prison sentence.  He’s now free and hopes to rejoin society as a productive citizen.  Should we continue to hold his criminal record against him?

A 92-year-old senior citizen now living in Chile is identified as a notorious former Nazi, who actively participated in what’s known as The Final Solution.  Should the elderly man be arrested and tried for his participation in crimes against humanity?

From these real-life quandaries, we recognize that morality isn’t so much a line, but a matrix.

The common defense for Roy Moore, the current frontrunner in the U.S. Senate race in Alabama is that all five of his alleged incidents of sexual and personal misconduct (two against minors) happened so long ago that they’re no longer relevant.  Moore is 70 now and married.  When he was in his mid-30s and single, Moore liked the company of young girls, make that — very young girls.  However, there’s no record — at least not yet — of any recent transgressions.  Whether deserved or not, if we give Moore the benefit of the doubt that he’s led a scandal-free life since the early 1980s, should his clean record later override suspected crimes as a much younger man?

The floodgates have now opened up on a cultural epidemic of sexual misconduct in America.  Many men in positions of power — from movie stars to business executives to politicians — are now shuddering in the shadows at the prospect of things they did and said to subordinates, years ago.  The sexual misconduct dragnet has even dredged up tawdry accusations against Tom Hanks and George H.W. Bush, two public figures most of us agree would seem to be the least likely of sexual conquistadors.

It’s pretty clear Harvey Weinstein, Anthony Wiener, Bill O’Reilly, and others exposed as sexual predators weren’t just scumbags before who eventually grew out of a sick phase.  They’re scumbags now.  Their misdeeds happened recently and thus reflect poorly on the quality of their character today.  Perhaps these powerful men are morally redeemable and can make proper amends someday.  That remains to be seen.  However, our judgment must apply to what we know now, not what’s presumed might happen in the future.

Consider the case of Kevin Spacey.  He might have posed an excruciating predicament had his scandalous behavior been confined to a single drunken incident three decades earlier.  Some might have forgiven or at least been willing to forget one misdeed (Spacey allegedly hit on an underage boy in 1986).  Our mass indignation became far easier once we learned that Spacey has committed similar acts over the course of a lifetime.

While Spacey and others present no moral ambiguity, Hollywood has a disturbingly short memory when it comes to rectitude.  It holds grudges for less a time than most people elsewhere.  If anyone other than a supremely-talented film director had raped a 13-year-old girl, he would have been an eternal outcast.  But not Roman Polanski, who fled the United States, dodged justice, and continues to live unpunished as a fugitive.  Years after the statutory rape occurred, Polanski continues making movies to this day.  He was even awarded an Oscar in 2002.  Apparently, in Hollywood, the statute of limitations may as well be a parking meter.

Central to the question of forgiveness is accepting responsibility for one’s actions.  Several abusers who were called out by their victims have publicly apologized.  Whether sincere or merely the clever crafting of public relations spin (call me cynical — most of these apologies are nothing but the contrivances of sycophantic handlers working for powerful people who were caught), those who admit their wrongdoing are taking the right first step.  Time will probably heal most wounds.  Roman Polanski clearly shows, they will work again eventually.

I’ve had some interesting discussions with Facebook friends about crime and punishment.  At least one of these friends is a convicted felon (his identity won’t be revealed here).  He committed a serious crime when he was 20, and later served ten years in a state penitentiary.  Today, he’s a free man.  He’s working in an honest job and has even started a family.  But he continues to be stigmatized by his actions from many years ago.  To what extent should he be judged, if at all?

I think most of us will agree that a felon who has paid for his crime and has demonstrated genuine repentance for the suffering he caused deserves another chance.  In fact, someone who successfully overcomes a bad childhood, addiction, and a criminal past is even more worthy of our admiration for having conquered their personal demons.  Most of us were born lucky, with good parents and enjoyed a proper upbringing.  Those who change from bad people into good people merit an extra level of commendation.

But what about the most terrible crimes in history, most of which have gone unpunished?  Only a small fraction of those who carried out of the most brutal barbarism of the Third Reich have been tried and convicted.  Most escaped justice.  Many fled to safe havens, like counties in South America where their criminal pasts were either ignored or forgotten.

Only a small number of Nazi war criminals are still living, most aged in their 90s.  Is there really any point to hunting them down, rounding them up, and shaming old men hobbling on canes or puttied to wheelchairs?  What end is served?

This one is easy.  Criminals who escape justice must be pursued until the end of their miserable lives, and even beyond (dig up the bodies and remove them from privileged resting places, if necessary).  They should never be comfortable enough to feel they’ve gotten away with villainy.  Not only do the ghosts of their victims absolutely demand this.  Modern would-be despots must be dissuaded from carrying out similar misdeeds.  One of the most effective deterrents to another holocaust is the grisly image of the guilty hanging from a rope.

Justice must never be subject to any stopwatch.  There is no statute of limitations when it comes to sinners and sin.  However, we must also accept that those who genuinely seek redemption must be entitled to change into better people.  In fact, they must be encouraged to do so.  This decree has no religious overtone.  Justice and the opportunity for redemption, when deserved, are the fundamental covenants of humanism.

 

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Posted by on Nov 9, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Politics | 1 comment

Marijuana’s Impact on Las Vegas from a Non-User’s Perspective

 

 

Now, four months into Nevada’s bold experiment with recreational marijuana use, all evidence indicates that critics of legalization were dead wrong about the presumed dangers they insisted would occur.

This isn’t the view of a biased, half-stoned, pot smoker.  It’s my sober opinion based on countless encounters with pot users who I’ve seen light up in public places, mostly using vaporizers.  “Vaping,” I believe it’s called.  Forgive me if I get some of the lingo wrong.  I’m not familiar with the mechanics of marijuana smoking nor do I know how to use one of those devices which resembles an electronic metal tube.  In fact, I’ve never smoked marijuana (or cannabis) in my life and have no plans to do so in the future.

I don’t like drugs.  But I don’t begrudge those who chose to imbibe in the milder stuff, provided they act responsibly.  Despite having no desire to partake, I strongly favor the legalization of recreational marijuana (and most other drugs, too).  Nonetheless, earlier this year when the law changed, no one knew what to expect once using marijuana became as convenient as buying a six-pack.  Frankly, given Las Vegas’ pervasive culture of quick and easy access to all forms of vice, things could have gone either way.

Critics warned that incidents of public disorder would worsen.  They claimed crime would increase.  They insisted recreational marijuana use would lead to a significant rise in the use of harder drugs, thus filling up emergency rooms and adding to the burdens of law enforcement.

Turns out, legalizing marijuana hasn’t made any of these problems worse.  In fact, pot may have actually helped to reduce some these problems.  In recent months, for instance, I’ve encountered fewer traffic accidents.  Data will ultimately determine if the rate of auto accidents has declined in Nevada since legalizing marijuana.  But based on personal experience, I’m willing to stand by the supposition that things are better now.

Why is this so?  My theory is as follows:  Since more people are now smoking marijuana than before, they’re also consuming less alcohol.  This shift in behavior would likely reduce the number of impaired drivers on the road.  Fewer impaired drivers means fewer accidents.

But doesn’t smoking pot impair driving?  I don’t think so.  Interestingly, I see drivers smoking pot all the time.  At stoplights, drivers frequently roll down their windows and release huge plumes of white smoke.  You can’t drive anywhere in the city and not witness this phenomenon.  When my windows are down and I’m sitting next to another vehicle with a driver who’s vaping, the odor is unmistakable.  It’s pot.  Yet, I’ve not seen any incidents where any pot-smoking driver appears to be driving unsafely.  Sure, it might happen occasionally.  I just haven’t seen it.

I don’t want to be accused of overstating things, but marijuana use appears to be happening almost everywhere around Las Vegas.  I’m astounded at how public this activity is and how few people (non-users) seem to care.  Pulling into some parking garages is like getting invited to a pot party.  Small groups of people are frequently seen standing around their cars, at all hours of the day and night, sometimes just sitting in their cars quietly as though huddled around a campfire, as clouds of smoke rise into the air.  It’s pervasive.

I’ve walked past these dens of pot smokers more times than I can count, frequently late at night after a long poker session.  I’ve never encountered a problem or felt unsafe.  Not once.

Downtown Las Vegas has become a melting pot of bikers, women with too many tattoos, budget-seeking tourists from the Midwest, and at least on weekends — about half the population of San Bernadino County.  It’s also become the city’s epicenter for marijuana use.  Locals and tourists alike carry vaping devices openly on city streets and inside many casinos, toking away.  Many different odors have come to be associated with marijuana products now, given there are so many different varieties.  I don’t know enough about it to describe the sensation, but the smell is distinctive and unmistakable.

Despite all the pot smoking within relatively confined spaces, I’ve seen no incidents of violence or disorder associated with its use.  To the contrary.  Smoking pot appears to make most users more mellow.  They don’t want to fight.  They want to chill, and maybe later — eat.  Moreover, smoking pot usually means there’s less drinking.  So, just like with driving, that would account for less public intoxication and violence.

Again, it may be too early to tell just yet, but crime has not increased in Las Vegas (obviously, the mass shooting isn’t taken into account here, but that had nothing to do with drug use).  Desperate dope addicts aren’t robbing and stealing in order to feed their addictions.  That appears to be yet another myth associated with legalizing marijuana — now disproven.  I expect we’ll eventually see better research on this which will settle the matter once and for all.

The only negative I’ve experienced with marijuana used so openly is a mildly annoying odor, at times.  If confined within a small space, the smell of smoke vapors can be pretty intense to a non-user.  But I’ve yet to encounter any of the discomforts associated with second-hand smoke — such as coughing and burning eyes.  Given the option of having a cigarette smoker VERSUS a pot smoker (vaping) right next to me, and I’ll gladly take the pot smoker.  In a heartbeat.  No discussion necessary.  Not even close.  Besides, the pot smoker probably won’t be much of a bother.

I can’t speak with any depth as to the economics of legalizing marijuana.  However, the state’s revenue from taxation will be huge.  Based on reports, including the conservative-leaning Las Vegas Review-Journal, local and state officials appear to be doing a remarkable job in policing the new industry, which remains scandal-free.  Even more compelling is the fact that hundreds (perhaps thousands) of new jobs have been created, many at legal dispensaries located all over town.  So, economically speaking, legalizing marijuana has been a good thing.  Just how good still remains to be seen.

Okay, so virtually all the short-term impacts of legalizing marijuana appear to be positive.  But what about the long-term?  Surely, we will pay a heavy price down the road, right?

We’ll eventually see.  If the critics are right (they’ve been wrong on every point, thus far); if marijuana proves to be a so-called “gateway drug” to harder stuff in the future, then Las Vegas will have some mighty big problems.  However, there’s no evidence yet that harder drug use has worsened in jurisdictions where pot has been legal for some time.  Other states (and countries) which liberalized their drug laws aren’t seeing any epidemics when it comes to overdosing and addiction.  In the end, legalization probably ends up saving more lives since those who do abuse drugs won’t be dissuaded against getting treatment because of fears of being charged with a crime.

Alas, the most serious drug epidemic in this country right now has nothing whatsoever to do with marijuana.  It has everything to do with a corrupt corporate capitalistic culture pushing the hell out of opioids in order to swell profits and make shareholders happy.  Las Vegas certainly has its share of victims who have become slaves to this opioid crisis.  Still, none of this has anything to do with marijuana.  America’s opioid addiction crisis has killed thousands.  But no one dies from smoking marijuana.  Let’s face it.  It’s big pharma’s bonus-driven corporate whores and overzealous marketing departments who are the most dangerous and destructive drug cartel in America.  Not pot people.

By and large, Las Vegas’ initial four months as a test case in the ongoing marijuana debate has produced a convincing case that this should be our national drug policy:  Total decriminalization of all marijuana-related products, sale, and use — in every state in America.  Imagine how that might free up our overburdened law enforcement and court system to tackle real crime instead of wasting precious resources busting pot smokers.

It’s clear.  Critics of drug legalization here in Las Vegas have been proven wrong.  Advocates were right.  So, let’s now listen to the people who got it right and start ignoring the people who always seem to get things wrong.  Let’s get wise and expand this smart and more economical approach towards marijuana to other places.

Here’s the final conclusion of someone who has no interest in smoking marijuana:  Legalizing recreational marijuana in Nevada was the right thing to do.

 

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