You Can’t Be For Casinos and Against Pawn Shops

Proposed zoning change to prohibit new Center City pawn shops and check-cashing businesses is the height of hypocrisy.

I find it fascinating that members of City Council right now want to put yet another zoning overlay in the city to prohibit new pawn and check cashing joints in Center City. The rationale is basically that pawn shops and check cashing joints shouldn’t be near casinos because … well, because.

Here in Philly, we’ve established that we are OK with the casino business model for two reasons: Individual freedom of people to gamble and for the fringe economic benefits of tourism. Still, our decisions have consequences.

One of these consequences is people pawning their shit to play chemin-de-fer.

Bizarrely, we as a city are perfectly OK with casinos but we’re going to disingenuously act like we don’t want people to sell their televisions to get cash to gamble at them? Hello, how the hell do you think the vice industry works, folks? It operates on human pain and misery. If you don’t like this, then you shouldn’t support casinos. It’s a side-effect of liberty. Deal with it.

If you do support casinos because of the truly profound economic boost it gives to your area or because a “friend” of yours wants to leverage people’s gambling addictions in order to buy a new house, you need to be OK with the side effects of casinos. And don’t think for a minute that there’s a “responsible” way to allow casinos in an area. Those quaint “Have a gambling problem?” PSAs alongside casino commercials really should be followed-up with “Call 1-800-IDGAF.”)

But it’s not even about that, really, that’s got me irritated about this overlay proposal. I’m mostly frustrated that folks with free checking accounts and direct deposit think their lily-white-ass experience with banks is reflective of everyone else’s. It isn’t.

Several years ago, I passed a bad check. While it was mortifying at the time, I shrugged it off as one of those things that occurs sometimes in life. To be sure, I set in motion a chain of events that created this situation. I didn’t ever intentionally bounce a check; but once it happened, and I had no money to rectify it, I was screwed.

This was another manifestation of my own substance-related problems at the time, and I was promptly evicted from my house as a result.

The law, rightfully, tut-tutted and humbugged at me. After all, engagement in American society means that we have codes of conduct, laws, that we must follow. Those of us who behave in an anti-social fashion jeopardize the entire house of cards for the rest of society.

I accept this, and it’s why I’ve changed my life.

Still, no matter what I do, no matter how much I adhere to honesty and ethics today, this bad check follows me around like an obsessed stalker. Just when I think it’s gone, it bounces back into my life and says, “I’m your number one fan,” as it takes a sledgehammer to my ankles, hobbling my ability to conduct business.

When I try to open a checking account, the banker’s face turns from excited over a new customer to dour, worrying that I’ll cause a scene. I don’t and simply walk out. After all, it’s not the banker’s fault his boss is allowed to raid the American economy but one bad check turns me into a leper.

So, I sheepishly walk out, my check in hand.

As a man, I become humiliated and despondent each time this process happens. Still, I deal with it. It’s life. I made a mistake years ago, and I need to recognize that.

Don’t get me wrong: I do not think that I have a constitutional right to free checking. I don’t even think I have constitutional right to access banks. I do, however, have a right to work an honest living for an equitable market rate and to access the fruits of my labors.

Here’s the other thing to keep in mind: Banks are under no real obligation to cash checks drawn on their accounts for non-account holders. Some of them even require you to have a credit or debit card in addition to your state issued ID to cash a check (for a fee, naturally). Now tell me: How the fuck are you supposed to have a card from a financial institution if you can’t get a checking account?

For me, I work around this by paying another bank for the courtesy of accessing a prepaid debit card system that, of course, charges me $5 to deposit money onto the card. Thanks, Democrats, for your lovely embrace of Wall Street over the past two decades. Assholes.

So, when I hear people say that folks shouldn’t have access to pawn shops or check cashing businesses or that we should limit the number of these establishments, I get irritated. People use these establishments to live. Literally millions of Americans do not have access to banks or credit to where they can easily cash personal or even payroll checks; and, the only access the working poor have to credit in this country is pawn.

It’s exactly why Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed letting the post office get into the consumer banking industry. It sounds like a great idea; the last time I had to utilize outright check cashing, I paid over $20 to cash a $700 check.

Sure, I’m partly jealous that I don’t have access to banking like you do. But mostly I’m irritated that you’re not realizing that you’re privileged to have access to banks. There’s other ways to discourage questionable behavior besides limiting people’s access to credit and check cashing.

Let’s talk about stronger consumer protections, public banking options for people with checkered financial pasts, or anti-predatory lending laws. But to mollycoddle casino supporters with a kick in the shins to people who need to rely on these pawnshops and financial services is repugnant.

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