This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
What nontribal gambling interests and their supporters haven’t been able to accomplish at the ballot box, they’re trying to make happen now in the Legislature.
House Bill 2786 deserves the same fate as past gambling ballot measures voters decided on: rejection.
The legislation sounds innocuous enough, enabling nontribal casinos to offer electronic versions of the cardboard scratch tickets they already sell. And there’s a carrot for legislators trying to close a big budget gap: Some of the proceeds would go to education, health and human services, and public safety.
But make no mistake: This would expand the equivalent of electronic slot machines into house-banked card rooms all over the state. Currently about 62 such establishments are operating, and each would be able to have up to 200 electronic scratch machines for a total of no more than 7,875 statewide.
Instead of sitting at a table scratching cardboard tickets with the back of a coin, gamblers could quickly go through a lot of electronic “tickets.” That rapid feedback is precisely what feeds the thrill sought by compulsive gamblers and makes it much quicker for them to lose money.
And lose money they surely will. The games are programmed to take in more than they pay out. A few people will be winners, but most will lose.
Studies show that the people most likely to gamble are those who can least afford to lose money: the low-income and the young. In the end, the social costs of gambling – in bankruptcy, domestic abuse and crimes like embezzlement – will far outpace any paltry revenue the state will see.
This legislation is the gambling equivalent of the camel’s nose under the tent flap. Here’s the rationale: Since card rooms already offer scratch tickets, what’s the big deal about offering the electronic version? Once they offer electronic scratch tickets, the card rooms can argue – and rightly so – that those games are equivalent to offering electronic slots, so why not allow the card rooms to offer those games, too?
And that’s how the will of the voters regarding expansion of slot machines can be circumvented.
Voters need to let their legislators know that making it easier for vulnerable, low-income people to lose money is not the right way to raise revenue.