The ABCs of American capitalism

As Indian gaming began to rise, I felt an existential nausea about our Indian world. The judge in me did not want to see justice being accomplished for us with the drop of each quarter in an Indian slot machine. Of course, that kind of justice ? economic ? did not come to every Tribe, ignoring most. I didn’t want to know about gaming. Then came the criticism and the fabricated distrust of Indian gaming. Then came a case before me about a question of the legality of our gaming. I was forced to learn about gaming.

In a simple sentence, this is something I learned: a game is a game is a game. All gaming is the same whether it is a slot machine or a roulette table ? only the odds change. It’s a mathematician’s conclusion. Contrived distinctions between games, such as the categories created by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act are mere fictional barriers.

So why has there been such opposition to Indian gaming? I think it is because it is called “gaming.” Let’s cut the crap: it should be called “gambling.” (Americans do love euphemisms!) If the industry were not cloaked in such a thin disguise, the American public might not feel like they were being duped; Americans get suspicious when they think they are being duped. Everybody knows that “gaming” means “gambling.” An ironic thing, when you think about it, that Americans don’t want to utter the precise description of something they deem to be a human vice. And, ironic as well, that they secretly deem it to be at the heart of their culture.

This is the Gambling Nation. It is the fountain of global risk. America prides itself on its capitalistic principles. But capitalism has gone well beyond its earnest beginnings when a person added to a commodity the costs of his labor for having improved its quality. Now it is all about gambling.

Let’s take an honest look at it.

Until the first Europeans arrived, Europe had a mercantile economy where goods and services were exchanged. Upon their arrival here, though, at our immense sacrifice, land was brought into the capital economy as the latest commodity. A vested class of entrepreneurs among those early European settlers, fully aware of the arrival of new settlers, acquired Indian lands at almost no cost, then sold the lands at greatly marked-up prices. The risk they took in acquiring those lands was almost non-existent. Still, they “gambled” that they were going to make a profit.

We had unwittingly made one of the greatest contributions to Western capitalism: the real estate market. Land became a commodity. But this was not classic capitalism, where a man added value to a commodity through his refinement of the commodity; this was clear speculation ? “gambling.”

And then there is the stock market.

The stock market is all about investment in stocks or bonds and the future prices of commodities. (Remember Eddie Murphy in the movie “Trading Places”?) The stock market allows a person to invest in stocks or bonds in the hope that he or she makes a killing. It’s “gambling.” The Securities and Exchange Commission exists to make all that “gambling” take place in an even-handed way: no special advantages to insiders. If the stock market collapses, there is no relief to those who foolishly invested (“gambled”).

Finally, there is the insurance industry.

The insurance industry is nothing but gambling. But it’s worse. Insurers have so much political clout that they have managed to convince every state legislature in the country to require drivers to have insurance on their automobiles. In these times you can’t even hold a decent job without the ability to drive. Yet, an insurance company, when it calculates your insurance rate, is “gambling” that you will not get into an accident before the company receives from you what it might have to pay in insurance when and if you do get into an accident. If you don’t get into an accident, they get pure profit. In the mean time, they take the money you pay and invest (“gamble”) it in the stock market. The law forces you to participate in “gambling,” and if you don’t do it, you don’t get to drive, and there goes the good job.

Real estate agents, stock brokers and insurance agents are a bunch of bookies. The real estate market, the stock market and the insurance industry are America’s Big Casinos ? ABCs. But nobody opposes these because the language they use cloaks their activities and because too many Americans are willing participants in those betting machines. They couldn’t come to the point of admitting that their activities are in the same category as gambling, an industry of vice.

But this has been a nation of gamblers from the beginning. The Old West would never have been as glamorous without its card games and roulette wheels. Every Sunday has its football, basketball and baseball pools: it wouldn’t be America without them. Dozens of states have instituted lotteries. Coupled with ABCs, we have to admit that America’s promises of success have gone beyond hard work to pure luck.

American resistance to Indian gaming is somewhat inexplicable. We’d hate to conclude that it is a latent discrimination on the basis of race, although it very well could be. It surely must have some basis in the fact that most Americans consider gambling to be a vice, though it clearly bears close resemblance to stock speculation and insurance.

In the upcoming months voters in the State of Arizona are going to have to decide whether Indian gaming will have the option to expand. If the voters there are an honest bunch of people, they’ll be willing to admit that Indian gaming is no worse than the ABCs of American capitalism. But the impoverished people of Native America can have little access to the ABCs unless and until they can have access to gaming ? oh, what the heck! ? “gambling.”

Judge Carey N. Vicenti, a member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation of northwest New Mexico, currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. He sits as a judicial official for several American Indian nations and is a columnist for Indian Country Today.


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The ABCs of American capitalism