Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Where to Draw the Line

There’s a headline in today’s Buffalo News about “Brothels on the Border.” See:

The article cites ongoing discussions by Canadian officials about legalizing prostitution, which supposedly would lead to an even greater tourist boom in Ontario border towns.

Millions of Americans cross the border each year to take advantage of casino gaming, a lower drinking age, lower gas prices and cigarettes, and notorious strip clubs (aka the Canadian Ballet) in the border towns. Would you like to guess how many more would come to patronize new brothels?

So what are we in New York to make of this?

My first response is prudish: “This is getting ridiculous. How many vices can our friendly neighbors to the north capitalize on?”

But then I think to myself: “But they sure are entrepreneurial. And their side of the Niagara River is really booming.”

I’m reminded here of something Governor Cuomo said recently. It was in the context of legalizing casino gaming in New York. He said something to the effect of: “Who are we kidding? Casino gaming is here already. All the neighboring states and Canada have it. Indians reservations have it. The racinos have it in virtual (electronic) form. This isn’t a debate about doing it, it’s a debate about properly regulating it.”

At the time he said that, I opined that if New York was to take that route it should create a strict regulatory body modeled after the Nevada Gaming Commission. The Cuomo administration subsequently proposed such a body, which is being formed now. (Shouldn’t I get a royalty or something for that idea?)

Legalizing gambling, and properly regulating it – is logical. New York is losing billions of dollars in revenue as residents travel to other jurisdictions to gamble. It makes no sense to allow that to continue year after year.

Using the same logic, you could make the case for legalizing drugs and prostitution. Think about it: Marijuana is widely available. And prostitution certainly exists – just ask the former governor of our state.

Shouldn’t we legalize them, too?

Again, I’m torn. On the one hand, I say to myself: “What’s happening to our values? Our morals? What example are we setting for our kids?”

But on the other hand, I think: “Get real. Just watch TV on any given night and you’ll see what society has become.”

I go back and forth on these points, but ultimately, I think you have to consider the point of view of one Bob Reilly.

Reilly is an odd duck Assemblyman who has devoted himself to fighting mixed martial arts contests. He says these contests brutalize athletes and teach kids skills they don’t need to know – like how to “choke out” their friends. He says he doesn’t care that other states have legalized it – New York should stand apart – against violence and its coarsening effect on society.

You can watch MMA contests on TV almost every night, and nothing New York does will change that. Still, a lot of people think Reilly may be right -- not only about MMA, but other activities that similarly coarsen society.

Yes, I know Reilly is something of a do-gooder and prude, but his advocacy raises a broader question: Exactly where do we draw the line when it comes to vices condoned by, regulated by and taxed by government?

The line that gets drawn is the bottom line. How much revenue will the activity generate? And what will be the voter backlash against it? One is weighed against the other.

When it comes to such calculations, nobody is better than the current governor. He is making the calculation now with regard to gambling. Next year it might be medical marijuana, and, after that, what? Prostitution?

Speaking of drawing lines I had a much funnier piece to post about JCOPE’s new secret sub committee to study secrecy but my editorial staff, friends, family even my dog thought it was a little too funny and that certain JCOPE players would not see the humor in it so I’m holding it for the time being at least until they get a sense of humor or I get fed up with giving them the benefit of the doubt.  Stay tuned.

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