Betting on life and death in Russia and Taiwan

Gambling is very much a natural part of human nature; there are ways in which we gamble with each other for money and there are ways that we gamble with the world for our own prosperity or even our survival.   But whatever the method and the reward, human beings gamble – not every human being possibly, but the majority of the members of our species gamble in one way or another. Were those first people who left Africa and whose decedents populated the rest of the world not gamblers gambling with their lives?

And yet, as natural as it may be, gambling has often been considered anti-social and has been forbidden.  Forbidden that is when the gamble is was a contest between men and the rewards are material; very few societies have forbidden the kind of gambling that farmers, explorers or business men do.  In the past, it was religions that took the strongest stance against the practice gambling for material gain and societies and national states traditionally followed the religious guidelines. That started to change with the birth of the modern secular states; those states have become increasingly more tolerant of gambling.  Over the course of the last 75 years casino gambling has become socially and therefore legally more acceptable in most countries in the world – not all by a long shot, but most. The 21st century in particular has provided casino gambling with fertile ground for growth and development, especially in the English speaking countries and the primary countries in Asia.  On the top of the list is China, not because of the attitude of the Chinese government, but because of the nature of the Chinese people.  China has gained a reputation for having the most avid gamblers on the planet – it is those avid and even rabid Chinese gamblers that drove Macau gaming revenues past 40 billion dollars in 2012.

Stories of Chinese gamblers are legendary, men and women willing to risk anything and everything, even their lives at times on the turn of the card. Or as is the case at the moment in Taiwan on the turn of a life.  It seems that people are betting on when cancer patients are going to die in Taiwan – one wager is rumored to be $33 million.  We bet on who will win the Super Bowl, the presidency and an Academy Award, why not on when a particular person will die?  Actually insurance companies have been betting on that for a very long time and every year there are wagers available in the United Kingdom on deaths for the year.

On the other side of the coin, there are other countries trying to find a way to eliminate or at least control gambling; Russia is one of those countries.  Casinos and gambling were part of the lawlessness that sprung up after the end of communism in Russia.  Its has been trying to fight its way out of that crime laden quagmire for years.  A couple of years ago casinos were completely banned in Russia proper; now it is permitted only in three remote regions.  Those special zones were expected to encourage foreign investment and tourism, while protecting Russians from the evils of gambling.  Up to this point the plan has not succeeded on either count.  Last week Russia passed a new law attempting once again to protect its citizens from gambling; we were so busy following the adoption law change that we missed the gambling law change.  Addictive gamblers can now be declared incompetent and deprived of the right of making their own financial decisions.

The Russian story is shocking for me.  Declaring a gambler incompetent is just one step away from declaring anyone for any reason incompetent and unfit to conduct their own affairs.  The next logical step is to incarcerate them.  It is clear to Putin that degenerate gamblers should be locked up to protect their families and society; so should girls that sing immoral, anti-religious or anti-government songs; and of course so should any person that does not think Putin should be king and protests his return to the throne.

Maybe betting on when a person might die should be illegal and maybe there should be laws to protect families and society from a gambler’s loss of control.  But this is dangerous territory.  Gambling is a basic human characteristic in my opinion and therefore a basic human right – the right to be a human.  Basic human rights are very frail; we need to be constantly on guard, watching out for people  and governments that what to take control of our lives for their purposes.  China and Russia, you might ask, what have they do with us?  Everything, anything that can happen there could happen here.  As our history demonstrates, there are no countries and no people that are safe from irrational legislation.  I am not saying the all gambling should be legal all of the time in all places, I don’t believe it should be.  However, I think anytime a government decides to control behavior that was previously not subject to legislation it bares closer examination and debate.  Protect me please from those who would protect me from myself.

TAIWANESE police have launched an investigation into a report that gamblers are betting tens of millions of dollars on the life expectancy of terminally ill cancer patients.  The investigation comes after Taipei-based Next magazine claimed that gamblers – including the families and doctors of cancer sufferers – in the central city of Taichung are placing bets as high as $Tw1.0 billion ($32.8 million) on when patients will die.  The report describes a rampant new trend served by betting stations in the disguise of non-profit organizations where punters are paid three times their bets if targeted patients die between one and six months of a prediction.  “We’ve been looking at the media report,” a Taichung police officer said, declining to provide details.  Punters are allowed to visit cancer patients before placing their bets, which start at a minimum of $Tw2000, losing to the bookies if their selected patients die within a month, according to the magazine.  Perth Sunday Times, 1-8-13

 Gambling in Russia may now result in something more serious than simple bankruptcy. The country’s lawmakers have adopted amendments stipulating that gambling addiction is a legal basis for restricting a person’s rights and freedoms. ­Individuals who put their family into difficult financial situations due to a gambling addiction, alcohol abuse or drug addiction may be ruled incompetent, the amended legislation stated. The incompetent person would then be put under guardianship. The guardian would have the responsibility of dispensing that individual’s income, whether it was a salary, pension or other form of income. The individual would still be allowed to carry out minor daily transactions.  Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the amendments on Friday, which will come into effect as soon as they are published. Similar legislation was introduced in Ukraine last year: If an individual there is found incompetent due to a gambling addiction, their relatives may seek guardianship and control over their financial transactions. RT, 1-7-13





1 Response to “Betting on life and death in Russia and Taiwan”

  1. 1 rexdstock1 January 9, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    “As natural as it may be…” A contrarian might ask, “Is it?” Call in the anthropologists (ignore Margaret Meade: like Sheldon and Steve, she cheats)…

    You should write the definitive book on gambling, including the aspect of its place in our human nature. Who knows, maybe it is something we do with instinctual fashion?

    By the by, Koi have tiny little teeth…


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