A Society in Which the Casino and the Government Must Always Win


An article by Kyle Sammin in The Federalist may be about a professional gambler’s conflict with a casino, but it provides a useful analogy for government:

[The casino managers] did not agree [to special terms from pro poker player Phil Levy in a game of baccarat] out of the goodness of their hearts. Casinos love to indulge high-rollers because they know that the longer a player spends at the table, the more money he will lose. So they allowed the requests, and thereby exposed themselves to Ivey and Sun’s advantage: the cards in question had a minute flaw. It was just a 1/32 of an inch deviation in the pattern on the back, but Sun had trained herself to spot the tiny variation. By getting the dealer to rotate certain cards before adding them back into the deck, she and Ivey could more accurately figure out which way to bet the next time around.

The practice, known as “edge sorting,” did not violate any of the rules of baccarat, nor did it conflict with the terms agreed upon by the casino and the gamblers. Nevertheless, Borgata cried foul and sued, claiming Ivey and Sun “knowingly engaged in a scheme to create a set of marked cards and then used those marked cards to place bets based on the markings.”

The key lesson, here, is that the casino must win, always, because its ability to win — and shuffle money into government coffers — is the only reason they let us gamble.  Now turn to this story, out of Illinois:

In Illinois, Substitute Teaching For One Day Reaped Nearly $1 Million in Taxpayer-Funded Pension Money

Here’s part of the explanation from Teachers Retirement System (TRS) spokesman David Urbanek:

Prior to 2007, Mr. Preckwinkle and Mr. Piccioli had accumulated many years of service in the IFT. That year the legislature approved and the governor signed a bill that, essentially, allowed those two to join TRS if they did what any member needs to do to become a TRS member – work one day as a licensed teacher. In addition, that 2007 law was written so that it allowed them, and only them, to claim all of the service they had accumulated with the IFT prior to joining TRS in the calculation that would determine their initial pensions, in addition to any time with the IFT they accumulated after joining TRS.

So, the people and watchdogs of Illinois thought they’d put a stop to an obvious abuse, but the union lobbyists saw a technicality in the law that others didn’t, and they won the game.

As government resources are increasingly constrained, look for an escalation of the rhetoric we hear every time some government employee is caught in objectively abusive behavior:  I was just following the rules for which we negotiated.  It’s not my fault that the public can’t follow every complex legal and budgetary issues.  It’s not my fault that elected officials try to avoid conflict and help unions get their way without waking up the public.  It’s not my fault the same unions help elect those officials… oh, wait.

Especially in heavily unionized states like Rhode Island, unions work with politicians to create a rigged system in which the house always wins.  Taxpayers and voters are like Ivey and Sun.  Whenever we figure out some way to make the rules of our democracy actually work in our favor, the house calls it “cheating” and finds some way around the result on the premise that their loss is always illegitimate.