By TIM ROWLAND
August 12, 2012
Those who insist that the winds of social change blow slowly should consider the issue of gambling. As the General Assembly was meeting in a special session to vote on an expansion of gambling in Maryland — largely to just catch up with neighboring states — it is difficult to think of anything that has gone from social outcast to social norm in a shorter amount of time.
Ten years ago, with one wave of a Bible, an anti-gambling activist could have counted upon a healthy turnout of placard-carrying protesters to warn the pro-gambling sinners of their impending doom.
In the late ’90s, there was no greater symbol of national decline than the expansion of gambling, from scratch-off to keno to slots — it was all a sure sign that society was on a one-way trip into the sewer.
Five years later, ESPN was broadcasting a national poker tournament in prime time.
What happened? As is so often the case, familiarity bred creeping so-whatism. Most people were able to gamble recreationally and still have enough cash left over to feed the family. The emerging casinos didn’t turn into dens of prostitution and organized crime, as the fear factions has predicted.
The American Gaming Association says that half of all Americans play the lottery, and one in four gambled at a casino in 2010. Polls have flip-flopped, with gambling now supported by tepid to strong majorities, depending on the region.
Just locally, here are some things we saw fit to protest in the past year: same-sex marriage, illegal immigrants, 6th Congressional District gerrymandering, Obamacare, the G-8 summit, the Trayvon Martin shooting, U.S. post-office policy, corporate funding of elections, zoning law changes, annexation, income disparities, annexation, abortion and fur coats.
In Prince George’s County, a jurisdiction of 870,000 people, just 13 individuals showed up last month at a street protest against gambling expansion in their county.
What we might be witnessing is a fragment of what could be called the greatest century of social change in world history. In 1933 we put an end to Prohibition, and since that time, lifestyle changes have come at epic speed.
Black and white now drink out of the same water fountain. Female swimwear has evolved from cloth fortresses to a loose confederation of patches and strings. Men and women are no longer restricted to similar race when choosing marital partners. It is no longer unusual to see a woman behind the wheel of a car or a corporation. Gays openly fight for our freedoms. Children have gone from “being seen and not heard” to having their own telephones. On Thursday a woman refereed a National Football League pre-season game. Elvis Presley, once condemned for his suggestive, teen-corrupting gyrations, is now played on radio stations that cater to people who sleep separately from their teeth. We can buy beer on Sunday and, in some states, weed in “pharmacies.”
By 2033, no one will bat an eye over same-sex marriage; the children of today’s “illegal immigrants” will be speaking fluent English and go largely unnoticed; and we will probably be in the discussion stage of legalizing prostitution.
Considering that it took 500 years to liberate the serfs, this is a whole lot of shaking going on in a terribly compressed amount of time.
Each day seems to bring some new spectacle of change that attacks our comfort levels.
Maryland was among the longest holdouts on the issue of slots. Now, with warp speed, we’re going beyond slots to table games and beyond table games to talk of legalized Internet gambling.
Internet gambling brings with it a whole new wardrobe of fears that we have yet to try on for size. The immediate reaction, at least here, is that it is a horrible idea that will inject gambling into the home — where as before, it was necessary to seek out a special place to lose one’s money.
But, like everything else, Internet gambling is probably only a matter of time, and like everything else it will probably assimilate itself into the American lifestyle with minimal upheaval.
It is, however, a reminder that social change is around every corner, and if some seem to find the lightening speed of these changes to be disconcerting — well, perhaps a little historical perspective can explain why so many feel so threatened.
Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.
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