In an ironic twist of fate, the largest casinos of "Sin City" ( Las Vegas ) and the rest of the state of Nevada recently reported sobering news. They gambled and lost $1.35 billion in net losses last year. In the eyes of those who disapprove of high-stakes gambling, it was a fitting misfortune. In the eyes of economists, it is simply business as usual. These casinos' economic difficulties highlight the differing ways in which society and the law view gambling losses versus business losses. For example, a business loss generally does not subject a corporation to the same degree of moral admonishment and may even entitle that corporation to a tax deduction. Any business investment is a gamble however. Certainly, the net loss bourn by the 263 largest Nevada casinos with at least one million in revenue from gambling activities during the last fiscal year was no small sum. Yet, it was not so out of the ordinary either. For the last five years these casinos have reported net losses, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board . Is the financial misfortune of an ostentatious casino on "The Strip" of Las Vegas more worthy of sympathy than the misfortune of an equally ostentatious customer? Perhaps so. The difference may partially lie in their respective potential to create or innovate. Creation can distinguish a business's supposedly respectable capital investment from a gambler's calculated wager. Both actions can be self-serving, ultimately unnecessary, involve the use of others' money, and carry disastrous consequences. However, gambling does not appear to involve any novelty or creativity. Business investments at least carry a greater potential for facilitating innovation. The moral valuation of either act must involve more than its likelihood of success. For a construction company to accept a low 30% chance of breaking even by building low-income housing seems more honorable (though perhaps unwise) than a rich socialite accepting a 50-50 chance of winning at the roulette table. Admittedly, both actions would indirectly employ others, independent of their ultimate success. Over 170,000 commercial casino employees were in Nevada alone in 2012. This does not include those who depend on the tourism, nightlife, restaurant, and other industries that would not exist but for the state's glamorous casinos. Nor does it include those public employees who depend on the over $800 million in fees and taxes paid by Nevada's largest casinos. Yet, despite any notable social benefits they may have, there remains a fine line between investments and wagers. In making moral assessments, one must distinguish between business and pleasure. Acts of excessive self-ingratiation rarely carry any moral currency, regardless of their net social benefits. Though many view gambling as simply another form of entertainment, it carries an acute danger of obsession or addiction, which may distinguish high-stakes gambling from other expensive forms of entertainment or consumption like purchasing season tickets that one knows will be used infrequently, paying for caviar in a fancy bistro, and buying overpriced designer clothes. Furthermore, rarely does excessive self-ingratiation in purchasing luxury items or glamorous services serve as a positive example for others. Conversely, working diligently and planning intelligently in order to make one's business a success does promote honorable values. Despite the well-known fact that most businesses ultimately fail in the long run, the effort exerted in the meantime seems to count for something. Business investments can facilitate creating something new and necessitate the exercise of values like industriousness, diligence, and prudent planning. For that reason, investments are generally held in higher regard than gambling bets meant for pure self-ingratiation. It may well be that Nevada's casinos lost money on their investments, but theirs may ironically have been a gamble worth making.
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