My colleague Rick Henderson’s column on sweepstakes cafes is well worth a read today. Here’s a snippet:

I’m not here to preach against gambling, or to call for an end to the sweepstakes business. Plenty of other risky forms of entertainment are legal, too — including many extreme sports and physical contests — and should remain that way. Adults should be treated as responsible individuals.

That said, the state’s campaign against video sweepstakes operators is sheer hypocrisy. North
Carolina does not merely operate a lottery, it pimps for it regularly, enlisting onetime celebrities like Ric Flair to pitch individual games and — more shamefully — public school teachers and administrators to promote the allegedly wonderful programs made possible only by the sale of those lottery tickets.

State lawmakers are considering legislation that would bring tax revenues from sweepstakes operators to Raleigh. Good.

A few years ago, I researched the state lottery and proposed several solutions to its many problems. My first solution was to end the lottery altogether. Barring that, my next proposal was

to deregulate gambling in North Carolina, which would allow gambling industries to develop and compete in the state, including not just the sweepstakes cafes but also Internet poker, private casinos, horseracing, etc. Those industries would contribute to job creation and also, through responsible taxation, to education and the General Fund. It would remove the state from being a seller (the only seller) of gambling-related materials, which is no worthwhile role for any government to have.

Having gambling deregulated in North Carolina would countermand the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses appeal for a state lottery (the silly idea that a North Carolinian buying a lottery ticket in another state had effectively withheld money from North Carolina’s public schools, which was a staple of Gov. Mike Easley’s speeches), as the wider market would no doubt attract gambling enthusiasts from other states.

Deregulating gambling would address the concerns over the lottery’s ineffectiveness at supplementing education funding and whether the state should be a monopoly provider of gambling goods. Still, deregulated gambling in North Carolina would continue to draw opposition on moral grounds, but that could not possibly be interpreted as a vote of confidence in the state lottery. There are reasons to oppose a state lottery without being an opponent of legalized gambling — but it would require some twisted logic to oppose legalized gambling while supporting a state lottery.