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GAMBLING LAWS - William Leggett, Democratick Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy 
Democratic Editorials: Essays in Jacksonian Political Economy, Foreword by Lawrence H. White (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1984).
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January 28, 1837.
Mr. Cutting lately introduced a bill into the Assembly, which, it will be seen, has been passed in that house, for the more effectual punishment of crime. The first section of the bill is in the following words:
The keeping of a gambling house by any person in the city of New York, shall be, and hereby is declared, a misdemeanour, and indictable as such; and upon conviction thereof, the offender shall be subject to a fine, not exceeding five hundred dollars, or to imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both, in the discretion of the court before whom the same is tried.
We do not believe that a law of this kind is the best method of preventing gaming. There have always been laws against gaming in this city; yet they have slumbered on the statute book, mere dead letters, while gambling has been pursued with a degree of openness scarcely inferiour to that of the licensed gaming houses in New Orleans. Our readers are aware that we belong to that class of persons who do not believe in the omnipotence of law to effect every conceivable object of reformation. The law of publick opinion, if left free to act, would, in a vast multitude of cases, be found more efficient, than a penal statute. We believe that gaming is one of the vices which would be much more effectually restrained, if left entirely to the salutary influences of publick opinion, than it ever can be by legislative interference. If laws on the subject are highly penal, they are not enforced; and if slightly penal, they are ineffectual: and, in both cases, they forestall and render sluggish and inoperative the publick sentiment, which otherwise, we think, we would be found an active and efficient agent in restraining the vice.
A legislature is always badly set to work in manufacturing crime. To risk money in a wager is not a crime per se, whether the wager be on the result of a race, on the fate of a lottery ticket, on the turn of a dicebox, or on any other like contingency. It is folly, perhaps, in all cases, and it becomes crime and madness in some; but to draw the line between allowable folly and criminality, in a matter of this kind, is rather the office of publick opinion, than of the law.
But Mr. Cutting’s bill does not go to the extent of punishing gaming, but merely to punish those who afford facilities to gamblers, to punish the keepers of gaming houses. It is one of the heaviest charges against the law, that it spreads a flimsy net to catch small offenders, while it weaves no meshes strong enough to hold the larger ones. The poor wretch who gets drunk on threepenny gin is sent to bridewell1 or the watchhouse, while the judge who sentences him daily inebriates himself with impunity on Madeira or Champaigne. The keeper of the shilling faro table is lodged in prison, and mulcted in a heavy fine; while the dashing coterie of rich and fashionable blacklegs, who support their own hell, under the thin disguise of a club house, and nightly allure spendthrifts to their ruin, have passage free. Mr. Cutting knows dozens of conspicuous individuals in this city, who, to all intents and purposes, and to the worst intents and purposes, keep gambling houses, that would not be touched by his bill, if it should be passed into a law.
To suppress vice in part is perhaps better than not to suppress it at all; but the objection we urge to the proposed law, and to all such legislation, is that it does not really promote its ostensible object. If the legislature had spent as much time in framing penal statutes against intemperance, as it has wickedly spent, for years past, in framing grants of special charters, it could not possibly have effected the reform, in that respect, which publick opinion has accomplished. We would leave the vice of gambling to be corrected in the same way.
[1 ]That is, to prison.—Ed.