Of the ideas for raising revenue being bandied about in the runup to the special session that begins Monday, one of worst is an expansion of casino gambling.
The House Republicans’ scheme would give nontribal casinos – which now are limited to table games – the ability to offer the same video slot machines now available only in the state’s 28 tribal casinos. They claim that will raise about $150 million for the state, create jobs and bring in tourists.
Perhaps, but it would do that on the backs of those who can least afford it – problem gamblers and low-income people. Call it gaming, but it’s really a predatory tax on vulnerable people and their families.
Slot machines enable gamblers to wager a lot of money fast – which is particularly appealing to compulsive gamblers. And there should be little doubt that allowing those machines into more than 60 nontribal casinos will lead to an increase in social problems.
Problem gambling can strain personal relationships and lead to debt, maxed-out credit cards and even bankruptcy. Some gambling addicts steal or commit other crimes to feed their compulsion, and they have a high rate of suicide.
The families of compulsive gamblers are more likely to experience domestic violence and child abuse, and their children are at higher risk of depression, behavioral problems and substance abuse. Communities can ill afford more gambling-related social problems at a time when funding for social services is being slashed.
There’s no guarantee that allowing more gambling will have the rich payout some project. In an interview earlier this year with Northwest News Network’s Austin Jenkins, gaming industry expert Professor William Thompson said lawmakers might be overly optimistic:
“The casino money is going to come out of dining budgets. People aren’t going to go to the Walmarts and the Sears to buy stuff that would be subject to the sales tax.”
What benefit is it to the state to just shift tax revenue sources from local restaurants and stores to casinos?
Let’s hope that the Republicans’ proposal is a ploy to convince the tribes to share more of their gaming profits with the state. Although Washington’s tribes do make strategic donations to their communities, and many pay local governments for some law enforcement costs, they don’t pay out nearly as much as tribes in other states. Blame the sweet deals they’ve struck with recent governors.
In other states, tribal revenue sharing ranges from 1 percent in Nevada to 25 percent in California, Connecticut, Florida and New York. Even if Washington’s tribal casinos only shared 5 percent of their profits, it could mean about $87.3 million in new revenue for the state.
That might be preferable to opening up lots of new competition from nontribal casinos, which earlier this year proposed sharing 35 percent of their profits with the state. It’s something the tribes should consider.