Delaware rolls over for casinos

March 28, 2012 10:29 am

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell has just set the new high water mark for the dumbest gambling proposal ever.

Markell wants to expand gambling to every corner of the tiny First State so he can give the struggling but influential casinos there a giant tax break.

Markell’s policy is a reverse Robinhood: Take from the poor and give to the rich.

Markell wants to expand keno from the casinos to 100 sites in the state, and allow betting on pro football to 20 sites. He also wants to legalize online gambling so citizens can play the lottery and casino games from the comfort of their home, office, dorm room and mobile phone. In return, Markell plans to give the casinos a massive tax break by eliminating the $4 million in slot machine fees paid to the state and slashing the fees casinos pay the state from table games from $6.75 million to $3 million.

The proposal amounts to a sweetheart deal for the casinos and a regressive tax for the state’s most vulnerable citizens. Elected officials take an oath to protect and serve their citizens, not scheme to make them poorer. But it is plain to see that Markell is really about serving the influential casino lobbyists first.

The scene playing out in Delaware is a preview for what is to come in other states as gambling spreads and caninablizes revenues. Delaware enjoyed steady growth in gambling revenue for years. But competition from Pennsylvania, Maryland and other states has eroded revenues in recent years. To combat the drop in revenue, the influential casino lobbyists have leaned on lawmakers to negotiate more favorable terms in their monopoly gambling compact.

The real problem facing lawmakers in Delaware is that the state is addicted to gambling – and trying to look cool by having a black license plate. Delaware depends on gambling to fund a much larger percentage of its budget than other states. It worked when Delaware didn’t have any competition. But gambling revenues are not sustainable or dependable, especially as more states turn to gambling as a way to balance their budget. It’s a vicious cycle that leads lawmakers to further exploit their citizens by allowing more and more forms of gambling that only strips wealth from workers in order to pay for government services. In the long run, pushing more gambling is a losing proposition for everyone but the house.

Closing time in Alabama gambling corruption trial

February 29, 2012 10:15 am

Defense attorneys are wrapping up their closing argument in the gambling corruption in Alabama involving lawmakers, lobbyists and casino owners.

Six defendants are on trial for the alleged scheme that involved bribing state lawmakers in return for pro-gambling votes. The first trial ended in a hung jury last summer and two defendants were acquitted.

In his closing argument, a federal prosecutor told jurors that casino owner Milton McGregor bribed lawmakers to protect his millions in gambling profits, while a trio of state senators were willing to put their votes on the auction block for campaign contributions, according to the Birmingham News.

“These defendants are guilty. They corrupted the Alabama Legislature. They robbed each and every Alabama citizen of the right to honest government,” prosecutor Edward T. Kang said as he concluded his closing argument.

Meanwhile, a defense attorney for McGregor told jurors that the case “reeks of political motivation.”

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.

Sex and sleaze at casino corruption trial

February 16, 2012 11:45 am

A federal corruption trial in Alabama is showing how far some casino types will go to win votes from lawmakers. In an FBI wiretap played at the trial, a casino developer urges the boss of a female lobbyist to tell her to expose her breasts to a state senator to help secure a pro-gambling vote.

Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley urges Jennifer Pouncy’s supervisor to tell her to let state Sen. Jim Preuitt touch her breasts. Pouncy lobbied for Country Crossing and was trying to secure pro-gambling votes. In the call, Gilley says to Pouncy’s supervisor: “Tell her I’ll give her a $50,000 bonus.” At the trial, Gilley apologized for the remark and said it was a joke. Pouncy has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and Gilley has pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy.

Gilley built Country Crossing casino to attract tourists headed to Florida Panhandle beaches. He said his electronic bingo games took in $18 million during the three-day opening weekend in December 2009 but he had to close the casino in January 2010 after a state crackdown on electronic bingo. He said indicted casino owner Milton McGregor loaned him $14 million and they worked together to pass legislation to protect Country Crossing and McGregor’s VictoryLand casino from the crackdown.

McGregor, Preuitt, Sen. Harri Anne Smith, former Sen. Larry Means, casino lobbyist Tom Coker and casino spokesman Jay Walker are in the second week of a federal court trial on conspiracy and bribery charges accusing them of using campaign contributions to buy and sell votes for the pro-gambling bill, according to the Associated Press.

How to buy a casino: First hire lobbyists

January 13, 2012 8:21 am

Here’s the simple three-step guide to change public policy in order to legalize casinos in a state, as detailed by The New York Times today.

First thing a big casino operator does is buy up some land. And then buy up a bunch of influential lobbyists. Sprinkle around lots of cash and then watch lawmakers begin to dance like puppets on a string.

That appears to be the Genting Way. The Malaysian casino giant is literally buying its way into the halls of power in New York and Florida. This once again underscores the joint partnership between government and gambling.

Funny, some folks thought Gov. Cuomo just dreamed up the bright idea to change the state constitution in order to legalize casinos across the state all by himself. Or that residents were calling Albany clamoring for more slot machines.

In fact, here’s what happened. Genting bought some land in the Catskills. Then hired a bunch of well-connected lobbyists who used to work for Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg and other key lawmakers. Next thing you know, Cuomo is pushing casinos in New York.

Never mind the state constitution prohibits gambling or the studies that show casinos result in increased crime, bankruptcy, suicide and divorce. How can a business that produces mainly nothing but losers be a good public policy?