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Opinion

Incessant gambling ads: a vexing sign of moral decline in North Carolina

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by Rob Schofield, NC Newsline
March 26, 2024

Americans obsess and argue a lot about morality these days. This is especially the case over on the political and religious right, where decrying societal change in the realm of sexuality and gender and seeking the imposition of new laws to restrict personal bodily autonomy have long been top priorities.

It’s been decades since a conservative Virginia preacher named Jerry Falwell rose to national prominence through the establishment of a group known as the Moral Majority, but successor organizations championing the same basic agenda remain numerous and prolific.

Here in North Carolina, passing laws to enforce Falwell’s version of “morality” has been a top priority in state government for decades under both parties, and particularly since Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2011.

Indeed, in recent years, Republican lawmakers have repeatedly proposed and enacted new laws – both to enforce one very specific and narrow view of morality on the question of abortion and to limit the rights of LGBTQ people based on who they love and how they identify themselves, and even to prevent schools from carrying books that discuss such topics.

Interestingly, one issue that seems never to make its way very high up the conservative morality agenda in Raleigh or other state capitals these days is the issue of economic predation – in particular, the actions of corporate behemoths who exploit and prey upon the vulnerable.

For years, groups of the Moral Majority ilk have stood idly by as predatory lenders peddling usurious and addictive “products” like “consumer finance loans,” “payday loans” and “car title loans” vacuumed up billions of dollars from low-income households and regularly convinced lawmakers to enable their rip-offs.

And recently, this trend has taken on a new and pernicious guise: corporate sports gambling.

It wasn’t that long ago that the very discussion of gambling in and around sporting events –particularly formerly “amateur” events like college basketball – was enough to sound deafening alarm bells and prompt investigators to swoop in from all corners.

In 2024, however, gambling isn’t just tolerated and adjacent to sports – it’s become an integral part of how we consume the games. What’s more, the gambling in question isn’t the kind that’s managed by small-time bookmakers. Today, the bookmakers have evolved into global corporations that employ fleets of charismatic celebrities – ex-athletes, TV sports announcers and entertainers – who are paid vast sums to make an additive and frequently destructive product seem glamorous and alluring.

This past weekend, it was almost impossible for viewers of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments to find a television ad for anything else. Indeed, in many sports, gambling odds and betting come-ons are now a central component of the pre-game and between periods chitchat, and even the narration of games themselves.

It’s a phenomenon you’d think would be ready-made for conservative Christian activists to strongly oppose and use all of their political muscle to combat. After all, the Christian New Testament is as peppered with repeated references to aiding the poor and opposing their exploitation by the powerful as it is utterly devoid of discussions of homosexuality and abortion.

Sadly however, when it comes to corporate gambling and other predatory financial schemes, religious right advocacy seems never to take on the same urgency (or have the same impact on conservative politicians) that it has when it comes to on matters of intimate human behavior like sexuality and reproduction. Just ask a certain former president who continues to enjoy overwhelming support from evangelical voters despite having built a business empire predicated in large part on casino gambling and fleecing customers and business partners.

Oh sure, many religious conservatives pay lip service to the gambling question, but it’s usually more a function of their opposition to the act itself (i.e., the “sin” of actually placing of bets) than it is to what ought actually to be the greater concern – the systematic exploitation of the vulnerable by giant corporate interests.

Some observers have suggested that this strange disconnect could be related to the fact that so many conservative televangelists and megachurch preachers run business empires that are predicated on advertising and promises of glory not that dissimilar to those run by corporate predators.

Perhaps.

But whatever the explanation for the tepid and half-hearted advocacy – cynical hypocrisy or just knowing your audience and what they can really be ginned up to care about – don’t look for a change that would persuade the Republican lawmakers who run the state and depend heavily on conservative Christian voters to maintain their majorities to switch courses anytime soon.

Like alcohol and recreational drugs, sports gambling will always be with us and can, at least for some, be harmless entertainment. But that doesn’t mean our elected leaders should abet and partner in its transformation into an extractive and predatory product controlled by voracious corporations that inundate us on a 24/7 basis with manipulative and deceptive advertising.

Indeed, what North Carolinians are experiencing right now is the very definition of immorality.

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: info@ncnewsline.com. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

This story is republished from NC Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.