Gambling Or Gaming? For One Lobbyist, There’s A Big Difference

Words carry meaning, and Steve Brubaker thinks "gambling" and "gaming" are far from interchangeable
words have power
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“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” the 16th century gambling scribe William “Billy Shakes” Shakespeare once noted.

Well, for Steve Brubaker, Shakespeare could go take a flying leap off a structurally unsound 16-team parlay.

I have decided to start using ‘gambling’ when talking about gambling,” Brubaker tweeted last week. “I will no longer give the gambling industry a pass on calling themselves ‘gaming’ companies. I think that is a Joe Camel effort targeting kids. Kids play games. They don’t gamble. Stop it @AmericanGaming.”

Brubaker, an Illinois-based lobbyist who has worked on behalf of harness racing in-state and, nationally, daily fantasy sports, is clearly not some anti-gambling crusader. He is, however, anti-not calling it what it is.

To me I think it’s disingenuous to call the gambling industry ‘gaming,’” he told me. “And the core of it is people don’t have to be disingenuous to sell this product. Be it casinos, or sports betting, or internet gaming. People want to play, obviously. They’re very popular. Selling sports betting should be super simple — either put it on the ballot or take it to the legislature and sell it. Let’s just be honest and sell something people want to buy. That’s my prime message.”

Tomato, toe-mah-toe?

Of course, some might think Brubaker is splitting hairs. You say gambling, I say gaming, let’s call the whole thing off, right?

Not quite.

“Certainly the use of ‘gaming’ referring to gambling goes back many centuries, to the 1500s. It’s not a recent thing,” said Jesse Sheidlower, currently teaching writing at Columbia University, the past president of the American Dialect Society, former editor for the Oxford English Dictionary, and one of the 100 smartest New Yorkers, according to New York Magazine. “But what has always been called ‘gambling’ rechristening themselves as ‘gaming’ in an attempt to sound less … well, less bad, or that there’s more skill involved — there’s certainly an implication in the word ‘gaming’ that there is skill, where the word ‘gambling’ does not have that implication — it’s clearly casino companies rebranding themselves.”

That sound you hear is the rabbit hole creaking open, as I then asked Sheidlower about sports betting, where there is (theoretical) skill involved. He was not impressed with my argument.

“You can argue there might be some level of skill involved in almost any form of gambling,” Sheidlower said. “But of course at the end of the day these companies exist to take your money and they have the odds in their favor, so however much relative skill you can contribute, these are still companies designed to not lose.”

Fair point. One that Brubaker spiritually is in sync with.

We’re not pinball wizards

“It’s not a gaming industry. People aren’t putting pinball machines in their house,” Brubaker said. “They’re going to gamble, so let’s just call gambling ‘gambling.’ Obviously the industry changed it for a reason, to soften it. But come on: People say they’re going to Vegas to gamble. Nobody says they’re going to Vegas to game.”

He’s not wrong. Words carry meaning, and if anyone spends two seconds thinking about the two words, it’s clear enough: Gaming and gambling don’t carry the same heft.

“I think it softens gambling, and there’s a reason they took that term,” Brubaker said. “They didn’t just say, ‘Let’s call ourselves “gaming,” we don’t need the “b” and the “l.”’ They did it for a reason. I don’t know the origin of it, but I’m sure it was to soften the sell. But why do we need to do that still? Gambling is  freaking everywhere. Just go sell it. It’s like having a candy bar you can sell to anybody. Just go sell it. You don’t need to lie about what’s in the candy bar. Everyone wants the candy bar. Just go sell the candy bar.”

Would’ve been real nice to tie this up with a Shakespeare quote on candy, but alas, a Snickers by any other name is kind of like a Milky Way, and that doesn’t really track.

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