My First Knowledge Of Gambling
When I was just a lad, back in the mid-1950s, every few weeks I would be taken by my dad to the barber shop — Paul Jodoin’s on Market Street.
This was no fancy hair salon but an old-fashioned place offering old-fashioned haircuts with names like crew cut, buzz cut, and whiffle. For kids, the style was anything you wanted … as long as it was short.
The barber chairs were massive and plush with a shiny filigreed metal platform to rest your feet. Except, at five, your feet never reached that far — you were placed atop a red “booster” device so Paul or his clipmates could do their work.
My dad would have his own hair dispatched and then sometimes leave me while he went off to see Norm Quint across the street, drop by one of the town’s two hardware stores, or visit Marcorelle’s package store, all nearby.
After a few of these visits, I began to notice that Mr. Jodoin was frequently interrupted by telephone calls. They were quick calls — he would say “yep,” write something down, and hang up.
I later asked my dad about this. He laughed.
“Those are people making bets,” he said.
You have to remember that this was the 1950s. Most forms of gambling had been banned in the Bay State since 1833 in response to all sorts of lottery scams.
Jodoin’s barber shop suddenly seemed a lot more interesting, akin to Ric’s American Bar in Casablanca. All that was missing was Inspector Louie Renault blowing a whistle and intoning, “I’m shocked — shocked! — to find that gambling is going on here.”
The Lottery And Sports Betting
At about the same time, there was a Massachusetts politician by the name of Frank E. Kelly. Mr. Kelly was constantly on radio call-in shows extolling the idea of a Massachusetts “sweepstakes” — a legal form of gambling that he claimed would be so profitable that property tax rates would be cut by 40%. All hospitals and schools would be upgraded, and every pothole filled.
When on the airways, Mr. Kelly would point to the Irish Sweepstakes as an example to be emulated. A state legislator, for 29 years straight he had introduced bills to allow the establishment of a lottery.
Finally, he succeeded. And in 1972, Frank Kelly had the distinct honor of drawing the first ticket in the newly inaugurated Massachusetts State Lottery.
Fast-forward to today. The state — and the entire nation — is awash in gambling schemes. Not just lotteries, but casinos and all manner of sports betting platforms. And with each of these, there is always the promise of serving the public good.
When Governor Deval Patrick authorized three casinos in the state back in 2007, for example, he promised that over time they would bring $2 billion to state coffers and employ tens of thousands (shades of that 40% reduction in real estate taxes).
What is most interesting is what’s happened in pro sports. Every other ad during a baseball, hockey, football, or hoops broadcast is about sports betting on one platform or another. Teams are lining up to move to Las Vegas. What’s next? Pete Rose as MLB commissioner?
When the Mass Lottery came into existence in the 70s, my dad’s reaction was to stay away. “That’s other people paying your taxes,” he would say. Never once, to the best of my knowledge, did he purchase a ticket. Nor have I.
And as for all those “gamble responsibly” ads? It is more like “light your money on fire responsibly.”
Any way you look at it, the vast majority of gamblers are getting a financial haircut … and the look is about as becoming as a whiffle.