Remembering The Economic Other Side

| December 22, 2011

“And the Christmas carols sound like blues, but the choir is not to blame”
-Jim Croce

My late father was a professional gambler. Toward the end of his life, he was an active volunteer at a soup kitchen in Cincinnati, which was run by the Sisters of Charity.

One day, as dad was dishing out food to homeless people, he was approached by the nun who ran the program.

“Joe,” she said, “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a gambler,” replied my father.

“Joe,” she said “This is the first time we ever had a gambler on THIS side of the table.”

Problem gambling has pushed a lot of people into poverty. The key to my father’s success in gambling was that he was always on the house side of the table.

He started in bookmaking, in the glory days of Covington and Newport, and moved into organizing junkets for Las Vegas casinos, when wide-open gambling faded from the Northern Kentucky scene.

First with lotteries, and now through slot machines and casinos, governments realized that an easy way to gain revenue is by allowing and sponsoring gambling.

The games that have been legalized bring in a great deal of income from those on “the wrong side of the table.”

In my father’s era, bookmakers cut off bettors on losing streaks. There have been few, if any, real moves by states to keep gamblers from harming themselves.

Most of the time, the help doesn’t come until a person is broke and bottomed out.

Legalized casinos, which have several games of skill and reasonable probability, gear most of their operations to the highly profitable slot machines and video games.

Lotteries have evolved from a form of gaming called “numbers,” usually popular in poor, urban neighborhoods.

If you go into a grocery or liquor store in any poor neighborhood today, you will see people who can’t afford to lose even a few dollars, standing around playing scratch off lottery games until all of their money is gone.

I rarely, if ever gamble. I don’t have any problems with gambling. I just can’t stand to part with my money on something I know is a bad bet.

Unlike Mitt Romney, I’m not up for dropping $10,000 on a wager.

My few trips to casinos have been bad experiences for the house. I bet very little and I am a terror at the low-price buffet. In short, I am a person casinos do not want to attract.

Gambling for rich people, such as options trading and sophisticated stock market games, have always been allowed.

When I passed the stockbroker’s test many years ago, I called my father and asked, “Why is futures trading legal, but betting on the Bengals illegal?” There is no logical answer.

States are under a lot of pressure to legalize casinos and slot machines and most of them eventually will.

I have an unusual perspective on gambling. Gambling dollars are what fed my family through my childhood.

Being a successful gambler allowed my father to rise from extreme poverty to relative affluence.

In his new book, The Music Professor, Cincinnati radio voice Jim LaBarbara said, “Big Joe McNay “was bigger than life. He was friends with everyone from (Johnny) Bench and Pete (Rose) to the big politicians. I think he introduced me to half the people in town, everyone seemed to like him.”

My father’s success at gambling made him the “bigger than life” figure that the Music Professor befriended. He also understood that problem gamblers need to have boundaries.

Otherwise, they will fall into an economic hole that they can never get out of.

Dad’s trips to the soup kitchen reminded him about where he came from and a segment of society he couldn’t ignore.

As a nation, we can’t afford to write those people off either.

Don McCay, who lives in Richmond, Ky., is an award-winning financial columnist for Huffington Post Contributor. You can learn more about him at


Category: Don McNay

About the Author (Author Profile)

Don McNay
Don McNay, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, CSSC is the best sellling author of the book Wealth Without Wall Street: A Main Street Guide to Making Money.

McNay is an award winning financial columnist and Huffington Post Contributor.

He is the Chairman of the Board for the McNay Settlement Group ( which provides structured settlement consulting for injury victims, lottery winners, and the families of special needs children.

McNay founded Kentucky Guardianship Administrators LLC, which assists attorneys in as conservators and setting up guardianship’s. It is nationally recognized as an administrator of Qualified Settlement (468b) funds.

Don has appeared on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and over 100 radio and television programs.

McNay has Master’s Degrees from Vanderbilt and the American College and is in the Eastern Kentucky University Hall of Distinguished Alumni. Don is a Quarter Century member of the Million Dollar Round Table and has four professional designations in the financial services field.

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