Gambling lobbyists lose a few

February 28, 2012 10:08 am

South Carolina is the latest example that shows the push to legalize casinos and expand gambling in states stems from well-paid lobbyists and not the public at large.

A report in the Charlotte Observer says South Carolina is being “targeted” by powerful lobbyists pushing a wave of gambling proposals. In particular, the cockroaches, er, lobbyists are pushing for a casino on an Indian reservation as well as new “sweepstakes” machines in convenience stores statewide and Internet cafes in Charleston.

More access to gambling would strip more wealth from South Carolina residents, in particular the poor, elderly and minority. That would be a terrible public policy in a state with so many low income residents. Fortunately, a spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley said the governor has no interest in supporting more legalized gambling.

That’s another victory for smart public policy. State lawmakers that try to balance their budgets by stripping wealth from residents they are sworn to protect are being short sighted, given that gambling adds so little to the economy and often leads to increased social and economic costs, including more crime, divorce and bankruptcy.

Haley’s opposition to more gambling in South Carolina is also part of a mini win streak for anti-gambling forces. Efforts – pushed by gambling lobbyists – to legalize casinos in Florida and Kentucky were recently turned away. Likewise, efforts to legalize casinos in Hawaii – which has no gambling – are gaining little support. But that doesn’t mean the gambling lobbyists won’t be back.

Kentucky casino bill gets derailed

February 24, 2012 9:50 am

Every once in a while the good guys win.

State senators in Kentucky voted down a fast-track measure that would have paved the way to changing the state Constitution to legalize casinos. Casino backers tried to tie the measure to helping the horse racing industry in Kentucky. But even that wasn’t enough to convince enough lawmakers that funding the government by enticing residents to gamble away their money was a good public policy.

Indeed, the senators who voted against the casino bill cited “moral, economic and ethical issues.” Others also pointed to the corrupting influence gambling has on government. That about covers the many problems with gambling, which adds little to the economy and strips wealth from residents. It also leads to increased crime, divorce, bankruptcy and suicide, which costs every taxpayer.

But lawmakers in many states overlook the economic and social costs in their zeal to find new ways to generate revenue for state coffers. Many lawmakers are also influenced by gambling lobbyists, who have poured millions into state houses across the country in effort to legalize casinos. This time, the casino forces were turned away in Kentucky. But they will likely be back.

Tax breaks for casinos

February 6, 2012 10:45 am

The insatiable drive for tax revenue is one of the main reasons many states are turning to casinos as a way to fill government coffers. But once the casinos begin to struggle they immediately turn to lawmakers for help.

In West Virginia, the city council  in Longview just approved a one-year tax break in an effort to keep the struggling casino afloat. Once the tax revenue goes away, what is the point of having a casino if all it does is create economic and social costs?The troubles in Longview offer a window into what other towns and cities can expect as more casinos open and the competition for limited gambling dollars increases.

Consider: The two mega casinos on Indian reservations in Connecticut are scrambling to refinance crushing debt loads, and will soon face increased competition from Massachusetts and possibly New York. Several casinos in Atlantic City filed for bankruptcy in recent years and continue to struggle, in part from increased competition in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the Revel casino needed a state bailout in order to resume construction.

Casinos in Indiana, Mississippi and other states are also experiencing a drop in revenues, in part from the sluggish economy and increased competition. In Delaware, the governor has ditched a plan to add more casinos as the existing casinos lobby state lawmakers to reduce their tax rate. 

Meanwhile, other states like Ohio, Kentucky and Florida have or are considering legalizing commercial casinos, which will further increase competition. As the casino cancer spreads, look for more states to cut taxes and cut back on regulation – as New Jersey has done – in an effort to prop up the increasingly influential casino industry.

The Longview casino claims it has not made a profit since 2008. Meanwhile, the casino continues to strip wealth from the community. And now the government is extending the casino a tax break so it can continue to take money from residents. There is something seriously wrong with that picture. It shows why casinos are such a bad public policy that is insidious and unsustainable.

The false promise of casinos

January 25, 2012 1:40 pm

Lawmakers in state after state are seeking to legalize casinos as a way to create jobs and balance budgets. But there’s just one problem: casinos are not the answer to a state’s job or budget woes.

The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader reporter John Cheves provided a very thoughtful analysis on the false promise of casinos. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear is the latest state leader to push for casinos. He joins lawmakers in Florida, New York and Illinois who are all looking to legalize casinos. 

The newspaper found that states that have casinos are struggling just like states without casinos. According to the analysis: The nearly two dozen states that get revenue from casinos have struggled financially during the past three years, just like everyone else. All of them cut spending; half raised taxes. Some fired thousands of their public workers, including educators and police, and gutted their basic classroom funding.

“Casinos will almost certainly increase your revenue to some extent. But there will be offsets and costs that you also need to consider,” said Alan Mallach, a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia told the paper. “Casino gambling does not create a single new dollar. Every dollar dropped into a slot machine is a dollar not spent on something else. It’s not like you’ve got an auto plant and you’re building cars to be shipped and sold around the world.”

Kentucky gets ready to roll the dice

January 4, 2012 3:24 pm

Kentucky wants to join the growing list of states with casinos. Lawmakers there appear to be on a fast track to ram a casino bill into law.

The Democratic governor and GOP leaders plan to introduce and likely vote on a bill this session. If a bill passes both chambers of the commonwealth’s legislature by a three-fifths vote, Kentuckians would vote whether to legalize gambling in November, The Wall Street Journal reports.

“The major sticking point is whether casino locations would be awarded exclusively to horse tracks, be opened up to any bidder, or a mix of both,” according to The Journal. “It isn’t clear how that question will be resolved or how much casino revenue would go to the horse-racing industry.”

If casinos are approved in Kentucky, there would only be eight states left in the country without casinos – not counting Ohio and Massachusetts where casinos have been legalized but yet to open. The casino cancer just keeps spreading.