I have never been much of a fan of casinos. Cities around the country have built them, usually on the false promise that they will generate urban redevelopment. When I visited the Motor City Casino in Detroit two summers ago with a British film crew, we stood on Trumbull Avenue, just a good baseball hit from the Motor City's massive parking garage. They marveled at the contrast between the gambling emporium and the rundown houses and trash-strewn lots just across the street. Although every city wants to become the next Las Vegas, the grim reality is that most casinos draw most of their visitors and most of their revenue from locals. Given the large number of elderly people who play the slots, casino-generated revenue is a massive redistribution away from seniors. A few more gambling halls will not save our cities, but they will rip a lot of us off.
One of the seniors who regularly patronizes casinos is John McCain. I'm not so worried about the impact of redistributing that multimillionaire's wealth, but it does say something that McCain is a compulsive gambler who has spent, and presumably lost millions of dollars (it adds up quickly at a few thousand a roll) at casinos from sea to shining sea and overseas too. TNR reports that:
In the past decade, [McCain] has played on Mississippi riverboats, on Indian land, in Caribbean craps pits and along the length of the Las Vegas Strip. Back in 2005 he joined a group of journalists at a magazine-industry conference in Puerto Rico, offering betting strategy on request. "Enjoying craps opens up a window on a central thread constant in John's life," says John Weaver, McCain's former chief strategist, who followed him to many a casino. "Taking a chance, playing against the odds." Aides say McCain tends to play for a few thousand dollars at a time and avoids taking markers, or loans, from the casinos, which he has helped regulate in Congress. "He never, ever plays on the house," says Mark Salter, a McCain adviser. The goal, say several people familiar with his habit, is never financial. He loves the thrill of winning and the camaraderie at the table.
Only recently have McCain's aides urged him to pull back from the pastime. In the heat of the G.O.P. primary fight last spring, he announced on a visit to the Vegas Strip that he was going to the casino floor. When his aides stopped him, fearing a public relations disaster, McCain suggested that they ask the casino to take a craps table to a private room, a high-roller privilege McCain had indulged in before. His aides, with alarm bells ringing, refused again, according to two accounts of the discussion.
"He clearly knows that this is on the borderline of what is acceptable for him to be doing," says a Republican who has watched McCain play. "And he just sort of revels in it."
Whether it be local governments gambling on casinos or investment banks gambling on risky mortgages or the federal government gambling with our tax dollars on gambits like the War in Iraq, we have gambled too much on America's future and lost. We don't need another heedless, multimillionaire risk-taker in the White House.