We have pretty bad news today for the Mifal Hapayis national lottery and the Finance Ministry; 60 illegal casinos on Soncino Street, Tel Aviv are desolate, almost closed. The story began on May 18, when deputy police chief of the Central Region, Gadi Eshed, decided to resort to unusual means to deal with the situation. Instead of capturing some roulette tables and blowing them up in full view of the television cameras, he set up a strong task force, positioning them 24 hours a day nearby, thereby preventing gamblers from entering.
This had such an impact on the casino owners that they demonstrated (can you believe it?) against the police on Yitzhak Sadeh Street nearby, letting down tires on the police vehicles. But this didn't keep considerable numbers of cops from keeping the doors closed on the illegal gambling joints each day.
Now the question is who will give in first. Will the Central Region unit one day decide that it does not have the personnel, and will move on to other matters, or will the casino owners decide that they've racked up big enough losses. In any case, the casinos' closure teaches us that it is possible to deal with the phenomenon, and we do not have to accept Mifal Hapayis' argument that gambling is a force of nature - that "you can't stop it" - and that if there is going to be gambling, we might as well legalize it with profits going to the state.
The treasury also wants casinos because they also see the income for such an enterprise, although they would like them to be privately owned, run by foreign entrepreneurs with experience who will pump helpful revenues into the state coffers. Mifal Hapayis claims that the treasury's stand comes from Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's association with Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.
But before we decide on who's the right man to run it, it's worth checking out why Turkey recently closed all its casinos. Once gambling is above board, a disproportionate number of the weaker members of society, those who barely have enough to live on, turn up at the roulette wheels hoping to become overnight millionaires, and promptly lose the little what they have. Their money is then spent on culture clubs and community centers where those better off (who do not gamble) send their children. A topsy-turvy kind of social justice.
And in remote development towns where casinos are set up, many social ills - such as organized crime, prostitution, black market in loans carrying extortionate interest rates, corruption and loss of life - will crop up. In other words, here is a type of new Zionism. The development towns will not be saved through improving life and education, encouraging employment, setting up tourism, or developing local industry, but through turning Mitzpeh Ramon and Eilat into gambling centers.
The state's founding fathers believed in a new Zionist-socialist ideal in which the traditional hierarchy of society as described by Ber Borochov would be reverted, bringing more Zionist Jews away from their esoteric trades to toiling the fields. They could not have imagined that instead of trading in brokerage and commerce, we have moved on to gambling.
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