Candy Crush and Mr. Christie
For the past couple of months I have been in the thrall of a game called Candy Crush Saga.
It’s about matching little colored thingies on your iPad or phone. I am not going to explain it in any more depth, because that would just make this whole discussion more humiliating.
However, if you stick with me, I am going to try to use it to make a sweeping point about public policy, ending with some severe questions about the political career of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
About the game: It’s been played about 150 billion times over the past year. There is no reward for winning; you just advance to another level in an ever-growing chain of chocolate mountains and lemonade lakes.
I told you this was embarrassing. I used to be addicted to playing BrickBreaker on my cellphone, and I now recall those days as my own personal version of Athens in the Age of Pericles.
I am only modestly comforted by the fact that half the people I know all seem to be in the same ditch. My sister Mary Ann got lost in the game while she was parked in a shopping mall, until a woman started banging rather urgently on her window.
“She said she wanted to make sure I was OK, because I was sitting with the car running and my head in my hand for a long time. I thanked her and said I was texting,” said Mary Ann. “I was too embarrassed to say I was playing Candy Crush.”
“But also,” she added rather defensively, “I was listening to NPR.”
Now, here’s the thing. Candy Crush is free, but if you get stuck on a level, you can purchase extra moves, extra turns, extra weapons. The creators — a London-based company called King — won’t reveal how much money they make on this gimmick, but the consulting firm Think Gaming estimates it’s more than $900,000 a day.
What would people do if they actually had a chance of winning something? This brings us to Chris Christie. Earlier this year, Christie signed a bill legalizing Internet gambling in New Jersey. The idea was to help resuscitate the Atlantic City economy and raise a projected $150 million in tax revenue. Very few people believe the state will really make that much, but the number did help Christie to run for re-election waving what appeared to be a balanced budget.
The law went into effect a few weeks ago. Now, state residents can go online, create an account with one of the sponsoring casinos and gamble on all the casino games — blackjack, poker, slot machines, etc. — in the comfort of their homes.
How many of you think this is a good plan?
So far, New Jerseyites have created more than 90,000 casino accounts even though many banks and credit card companies are wary of getting involved. You know that it’s quickly going to get easier and easier to play, and that more and more states will want to get in the act, sniffing those new tax dollars.
“This reminds me of the early ’90s when Iowa introduced the first riverboat casino. Within weeks Illinois started its own legislation, and soon the river was loaded with competitors,” said Earl Grinols, an economist at Baylor University who has written on gambling issues. Nevada and Delaware already have limited Internet gambling. Congress is looking at bills to create a national Internet gambling system, some of them proposed by Tea Party conservatives.
Fighting to stem the tide, we have the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, financed by Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner, who told Forbes that his “moral standard compels me to speak” and that he is prepared to spend “whatever it takes” to keep casino gambling out of people’s bedrooms. (This is the same guy who promised last year to spend “whatever it takes” to defeat Barack Obama.) Lined up on the other side are big casino owners like MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, as well as Donald Trump, Person With His Name on a Casino.
The whole idea of Internet gambling is enough to make you question the potential of Christie for national office. There is no possible way the country could be improved by giving people a greatly expanded freedom to gamble for money in their pajamas. Some day in the near future, you may look back nostalgically on the time when your grandfather did not have a slot machine connection in his bedroom.
“Slot machines are the crack cocaine of gambling,” said Grinols.
This cannot possibly be a step in the right direction. I speak from the experience of a person who spent $32 last month buying extra turns for a game that involves moving bits of candy around an iPad. Just because it was there.
Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.