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Expanding gambling is no way to address budget woes

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Nov. 24, 2011 at 3:23 pm with 4 Comments »
November 23, 2011 3:25 pm

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.

Leave a comment Comments → 4
  1. billybushey says:

    Gambling, schmambling: Let’s get past the rhetoric and hyperbole we’ve surrounded cannabis with for 80 years. Legalize, regulate and tax recreational use of marijuana. It is the beer of drugs, and is no worse than cigarettes or alcohol. In fact, it is far LESS harmful than either cigarettes or alcohol.

    Second: Let’s take the lead and enact a state version of the Fair Tax. We already have a state sales tax, we need to re-align how it is used.

  2. Whatever1214 says:

    “Perhaps, but it would do that on the backs of those who can least afford it – problem gamblers and low-income people.”

    You could say the same thing about taxes on cigarettes and booze.

    Just figure that these taxes are a tax on stupid, a renewable and plentiful resource.

  3. maxaction says:

    Unfortunately, the Trib’s perennially tired argument that gambling falls “on the backs of those who can least afford it” – is irrelevant. Today, if any citizen of the state of Washington wants to play a slot machine they’ll get in their car, drive 10 minutes and play a non-taxed tribal machine (whether they’re the 5% that abuse gambling or the 95% that don’t).

    It’s time the state realized revenue from these machines – while creating jobs, promoting tourism and saving social programs.

  4. Flanagan says:

    About time to open up gambling to all…no more government sponsored discrimination. As for those who can least affort it…how bout the gas tax :o) Now that’s something those who can least afford it are stuck paying. At least folks can choose whether to gamble or not. We have finally come to our senses about the sales of alcohol, now lets finally rid this country of treating one group of people differently than any other and eliminate tribal gas stations, tribal casinos and any special rights for folks who are no different than the rest of the human race.

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