Another lottery bust

September 30, 2011 5:21 pm

Tennessee lawmakers predicted the state lottery will use up most of the funds earmarked for college scholarships by 2024. The revenue shortfall is prompting lawmakers to look for new ways to generate lottery revenues. Translation: the state needs its residents to gamble away more of their money in order to keep its promise.

Tennessee joins other states that have been unable to uphold commitments made from lottery revenues. Georgia recently scaled back the scholarship money it contributes toward scholarships. The scholarship programs were once highly touted in states. Beyond being a regressive tax, the shortfall demonstartes that lotteries are not a sustainable way to fund government programs. Adding more lottery games in order to take more money from residents is hardly the answer to this problem.

Casino revenue: “Fool’s gold”

September 30, 2011 10:41 am

A top aide to the Massachusetts House Speaker wrote a memo just a few years ago that detailed all the problems with legalizing casinos, calling the revenue “fool’s gold.” But now there is a new House Speaker who supports casinos, so the tone on Beacon Hill has changed. Suddenly casinos are now the answer to the state’s economic problems.

The change in course underscores how casinos are more a political fad in state houses across the country. Many lawmakers know the casinos will not deliver on the many promises of jobs and revenue, but they are influenced by gambling industry lobbyists and the need to be seen as doing something to help the state. But this is not a fad that will go away.

As the memo details, casinos create more problems than they solve. One state lawmaker detailed a number of the problems in a piece for Boston Magazine. Despite the problems – which the state will be saddled with forever – the current House Speaker says he feels good about bringing casinos to Massachusetts. He is the real fool.

Trump’s dangerous mix

September 29, 2011 3:40 pm

The Trump Taj Mahal is offering $25,000 worth of plastic surgery to the winner of a card promotion at the Atlantic City casino.

At first blush, the promotion sounds like a fun gimmick aimed at the core market of Atlantic City gamblers: elderly women. But some medical professionals say the promotion sets a bad precedent by pairing two potentially compulsive behaviors.

Dr. Eda Gorbis, assistant professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and founder of the Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders in Los Angeles, said she has seen cases of people struggling with excessive plastic surgery and excessive gambling, and has grown concerned about the connections.

Leave it to a casino that promotes one bad behavior to offer a prize for another that causes problems. Ironically, the one thing that could use a face lift is Atlantic City itself.  Maybe Trump should spend some money to help improve its surrounding neighborhood, which remains down on its luck.

Policing problem gamblers

September 29, 2011 12:58 pm

The hypocrisy of state lawmakers when it comes to gambling never ends. Maryland lawmakers are proud that when they legalized slots recently, they also created a system that allows gambling addicts to ban themselves from the casino.

The very fact lawmakers knew that legalizing gambling would lead to more problem gamblers should have been a red flag. State lawmakers say this shows they are policing the problem. Of course, this is total nonsense. 

For starters, the gambling addicts must turn themselves in. This is like expecting a sexual predatory to put their name on a sexual offender list. Most problem gamblers aren’t going to admit it until they are broke and get help. So it is safe to assume there are many more problem gamblers in Maryland than the 42 who have put their name on the list.

The other porblem is that gambling addicts can also take their name off of the list. But gambling addiction, like alcoholism, is not something that gets cured. So the bottom line is this: the blacklist is pretty much worthless and does very little to stop or help problem gamblers. Lawmakers are kidding themselves if they think such a list mitigates the gambling problems they helped create.

Gambling fight in Rhode Island

September 29, 2011 12:20 pm

Turns out, legal fights between competing casinos may be the best way to limit the relentless spread of gambling. A Indian tribe casino in Rhode Island went to court to block a private casino from expanding.

The Narragansett Indian Tribe sued to stop the Twin River slots parlor from expanding into a full-blown casino with blackjack and poker tables. The tribe sites the state Constitution prohibitting such gambling. “All lotteries shall be prohibited in the State except lotteries operated by the State,” which has been broadly interpreted to include most traditional games of chance at a casino. 

Hypocrisy alert: The Indian tribe has itself tried to add table games in the past, but has been thwarted by the same provision in the state Constitution. Translation: the tribe didn’t have any qualms about challenging state law when it wanted to expand. Now that a competitor wants to expand, the state Constitution is the tribe’s best friend.

Of course, state lawmakers are even bigger hypocrats. The tribe can be forgiven for trying to maximize its profits. But the lawmakers are supposed to uphold the Constitution, not help casinos evade the law. Rhode Island lawmakers are not alone on this front. Other states have rewritten their laws prohibiting gambling to enable casinos, slots parlors and lotteries. New York is considering doing the same thing. Apparently, gambling money trumps smart policy.

Betting on a revolving door

September 28, 2011 11:50 am

Senate lawmakers in Massachusetts spent the day arguing over an amendment regarding the amount of time required before a lawmaker can get a job in the casino industry.

Now, we see what lawmakers mean when they talk about casinos creating ‘jobs.’

One state senator recommended a reasonable provision that would requirer lawmakers who leave office to wait five years before going to work in the casino industry. Other lawmakers took offense to the lengthy time period, arguing that it fueled the public’s perception that there was a lack of integrity on Beacon Hill. (Well, two Massachusetts lawmakers were recently convicted on respective bribery and extortion charges). Now they are shocked, shocked to think that some lawmakers may have one eye on lucrative casino jobs while crafting and voting on the gambling legislation.

But - just to show that they are all about transparency – Senate President Therese Murray called a closed door meeting so Democrats could hash out the issue in private. After the secret session, the Senate voted 36-1 to have a one year “cooling off” period before lawmakers could go to work in the casino industry. You can’t make this stuff up.

The same shameless nonsense took place in Pennsylvania after it legalized gambling. A number of lawyers who worked for the state gaming control board went to work for the casinos shortly after they were involved in the licensing of the casinos. Others went back to their law firms, which represented the casinos. Pennsylvania also had a one-year cooling off period, but the provision doesn’t apply to attorneys. It’s great work if you can get it.

Casino shootout

September 28, 2011 11:09 am

The gambling industry refers to itself in the kinder and gentler term of gaming. It’s a not-so-subtle attempt to make gambling sound like a night of harmless fun and games. Bring the family (and your wallet).

But the clientele inside many dark windowless casinos often looks more like the Port Authority bus depot on a Saturday night. Lots of elderly people sitting in front of slot machines, aimlessly pumping money into the machines. Few seem to be smiling or enjoying themselves. Where are all the pretty people seen in the casino advertisements?

Which brings us to some deadly games that took place recently at a casino in Nevada. A fistfight broke out at a casino between a member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang and a rival gang. Gunshots were fired. A Hells Angels member was killed and two members of the rival Vagos motorcycle club were wounded and a third hurt in a drive-by attack hours later.

Just another innocent night of gaming at the casino. And this is the industry many state governments are turning to as a way to solve their budget problems. Beyond the social costs of more crime, divorce and bankruptcy that comes with casinos, gamblers also need to fear for their lives.

Bloomberg doubts gambling figures

September 26, 2011 4:04 am

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the gambling industry is overestimating the amount of tax revenue casinos, if legalized, will bring to New York.

Bloomberg said increased gambling competition and a limited amount of disposable income will result in less money from casinos pouring into state coffers. Of course, the gambling industry and lawmakers cite the tax revenue as the main reason to generate support to legalize casinos. But the industry and their government partners also downplay the social costs to that will increase if more gambling is allowed. None of the pro-gambling forces like to talk about that piece of the puzzle, which ends up costing taxpayers through increased crime, divorce and bankruptcy.

Gambling backers argue that the mayor doesn’t know what is talking about. But Bloomberg, a self made billionaire and former Wall Street banker, is pretty good with numbers. His assessment is probably more accurate than the gambling industry’s.

Casinos are already in New York

September 26, 2011 3:33 am

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has floated the idea of changing the state constitution to legalize commercial casinos in New York. But as the New York Daily News points out in an editorial, the state has already opened the door to casino gambling.

In addition to the Indian casinos that exist in New York, the state has allowed the Aqueduct race track to open what amounts to a slots parlor. The new betting space looks just like a casino. But in place of the slot machines are so-called video lottery terminals, which basically are slot machines with a different name.

As the editorial makes clear, the state has effectively violated its own constitution in an effort to allow gambling. Why have a constitution is lawmakers are not going to uphold it?

A cautionary casino tale

September 26, 2011 1:50 am

As Massachusetts moves closer to legalizing commercial casinos, a Boston Globe reporter detailed some of the many problems that arose after Pennsylvania legalized gambling in 2004.

Call it The (New) Philadelphia Story. Unlike the 1940 romantic comedy starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart, this Philadelphia story is a sad cautionary tale about the state’s misguided foray into gambling.

To be sure, the state has raked in a bundle of tax revenue from casinos. But those billions were extracted mainly from the pockets of residents who left the casinos poorer. As the Globe reporter rightly discovered, the financial success of the casinos was built on a foundation of cronyism, patronage, and back-room deals, not to mention overlooked criminal histories and alleged mob ties, according to a grand jury report released earlier this year.

A quick scan of the reader comments at the end of the story shows that many Globe readers expect the same sleazy wheeling and dealing to take place in Massachusetts as it partners with the gambling industry.