BARTH KECK

I’ve always been a fan of dystopian literature with its what-if premises and cautionary tales. George Orwell’s “1984” was an early favorite, soon followed by Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” Television shows such as Rod Serling’s classic “Twilight Zone” and Charlie Brooker’s contemporary “Black Mirroroffer similar plotlines that match my thematic interests.

Most recently, “Squid Game” has captured my attention along with 142 million other Netflix subscribers, making it the streaming service’s most popular original series to date.  Produced in South Korea, “Squid Game” envisions the consequences of debt-ridden people playing reimagined children’s games for considerable prize money. Violent and gruesome, it is a dystopian allegory that criticizes a rapacious capitalistic society in which people are so desperate to rid themselves of debt, they’d wager their very lives.  

“Many South Koreans despair of advancing in a society where good jobs are increasingly scarce and housing prices have skyrocketed,” reported Kim Tong-Hyung of the Associated Press, “enticing many to borrow heavily to gamble on risky financial investments or cryptocurrencies.”

Just as I began watching “Squid Game” a few weeks back, my CTNewsJunkie colleague Christine Stuart posted this story:

“Starting at 6 a.m. [on Oct. 19] residents across the state will have a casino in their pockets. That’s because residents will have access to three different online gambling platforms, two operated by the tribes and one by the Connecticut Lottery.

“The Connecticut Lottery Corporation in partnership with Rush Street Interactive will begin taking bets via PlaySugarHouse.com, the Mohegan Tribal Nation will take bets via FanDuel and the Mashantucket Pequots will be taking bets via DraftKings,” Stuart explained.

Not by coincidence, advertisements for DraftKings began showing up on TV as I watched NFL games and on my Twitter feed as I scrolled through posts. I could now place bets on my smartphone at any time of day from almost any location. An absolute sports gambler’s dream!

Or maybe more like a nightmare.

Before I’m labeled a prudish, anti-gambling crusader, I’ll admit that I have placed friendly wagers on sports contests on occasion. I understand the allure of betting. But I also understand that gambling can be powerfully addicting and I worry that making it as easy as checking the weather forecast on your phone is a perilous proposition.

“The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services says broader access to gambling with online betting exposes gamblers to ‘vulnerabilities,’ such as financial difficulties, troubled relationships with family members and significant others, poor work performance, an increase in money-related crime, and a reported increase in severity of mental health-related symptoms,” according to the Hartford Courant.

“Diana Goode, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, said Connecticut does not make it easy for gamblers who know they have a problem to ‘self-exclude,’ or submit to bans in the casinos and online,” reported the Courant’s Stephen Singer. “Self-exclusion is ‘incredibly difficult,’ she said — gamblers must notify the state Department of Consumer Protection and the two casinos.”

The National Survey of Problem Gambling Services estimates that 1.1% of Connecticut adults – nearly 40,000 in total – have a gambling disorder.

Suffice it to say, I find the confluence of these two events – the massive popularity of “Squid Game” and the introduction of app-based gambling in Connecticut – more than a bit ironic. Even as gambling continues to destroy lives, we find ways to make it more accessible.

Before I’m labeled a prudish, anti-gambling crusader, I’ll admit that I have placed friendly wagers on sports contests on occasion. I understand the allure of betting. But I also understand that gambling can be powerfully addicting and I worry that making it as easy as checking the weather forecast on your phone is a perilous proposition.

Dystopian literature has told this tale before. One episode of the “Twilight Zone – “The Fever” – features a character who is transformed from an anti-gambler into a gambling addict. It seems he just can’t resist the siren song of a slot machine he thinks is calling his name.

A preposterous plot, not unlike that of “Squid Game.” But it’s a theme from dystopian literature that nonetheless deserves serious attention.

Barth Keck is in his 31st year as an English teacher and his 16th year as assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School in Higganum where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language and Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him at keckb33@sbcglobal.net.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com or Regional School District 17.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and 15th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition.