Viewpoint

Double standard in gambling reaction

Here’s an inspiration for the next installment of HBO’s gritty crime anthology True Detective. Let’s call it “The Mah-jongg Conspiracy.”

The action opens on the dark, mean streets of the Escondido Condominium complex in the lawless enclave of Altamonte Springs just outside Orlando. There we find four desperados of a certain age – Lee Delnick, Zelda King, Bernice Diamond and Helen Greenspan (a Holocaust survivor) – plotting their evildoing.

To the untrained eye, these four may seem like harmless elderly women. But Delnick, King, Diamond and Greenspan are the Mah-jongg Molls of Altamonte Springs, a vast illicit gambling cartel that sometimes takes in as much as $5 a day in ill-gotten gains.

The Altamonte Springs octogenarian version of The Departed began when an unnamed informer squealed to law enforcement authorities that the condominium had become a den of illegal gambling with penny-ante poker games running amok, unfettered $5-a-night bingo and mah-jongg contests.

It wasn’t long before an Altamonte Springs Police Department gumshoe was dispatched to the Escondido Condominium complex to ferret out all gerontological Boardwalk Empire activity. And it didn’t take long for the copper to stumble upon – a clue!

There! In plain view! A leaflet taped to the door of the condo clubhouse announcing a Friday night “horse racing” dice tossing event. And participants were advised to bring small bills to the wagering bacchanalia. The jig was up.

Apparently it is against Florida law to solicit (Exhibit A: the leaflet) people to wager. And although state law does permit penny-ante bets that don’t exceed $10, having the police department nosing around the senior citizen complex was so unnerving the condo’s management closed the clubhouse to any activity whereby money might exchange hands.

While the long arm of the law was shocked to learn there was gambling going on at the Escondido Condominium, up in Tallahassee two legislators have rushed to protect the multibillion-dollar gambling fantasy sports sites, DraftKings and FanDuel.

While other states have moved to rein in the fantasy sports betting scams, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Guys and Dolls, and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Luck Be a Lady, have filed legislation protecting the gambling operations as simply a “recreational” activity that should not be regulated by government.

Over in Altamonte Springs, the police department expended manpower, time and moneybecause some elderly residents were having some harmless fun.

Meanwhile in the parallel universe of the Florida Legislature, lawmakers are creating a safe haven to continue to fleece “customers.”

Does this make any sense? It does, if we simply take a liberty with the closing line from Chinatown.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Tallahassee.”

Daniel Ruth writes for the Tampa Bay Times.

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