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A fascinating blog debate on the notion of using expanded gambling and booze to help solve Washington’s budget woes

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Dec. 30, 2010 at 8:39 am |
December 30, 2010 9:07 am

On one side is David Meinert who wrote an essay for Publicola titled “An Adult Conversation about Adult Entertainment and Budget Deficits.”

Meinert is a Seattle music promoter and the owner of the 5 Point Cafe in Belltown. He argues for a wide-open set of laws to increase the number and hours of liquor stores, get rid of the 2 a.m. closing time, allow slot machines and negotiate revenue sharing with tribal casinos.

For Washington State, gaming and liquor are two revenue sources begging to be expanded. In Seattle, we’re squandering millions of dollars in potential revenues. Our current elected politicians are willing to sacrifice jobs, education, and health care in order to avoid an open discussion on how to make money from things they publicly find distasteful. It’s time we had an honest and open, mature conversation on adult entertainment.

On the other side is David Goldstein who produces the blog HorsesAss.org but who published his response – Stupid Budget Tricks – on The Stranger’s Slog blog.

In his passionate reply, Goldy notes not only that state voters have rejected both expanded gambling and more-liberal liquor laws but that Meinert doesn’t consider the social costs that would result. He also reminds his readers about the myth of free tribal gambling money that was perpetuated by the GOP in the 2008 gubernatorial campaign.

Fortunately, Washington voters have better sense, repeatedly rejecting at the polls both gambling expansion and state store privatization measures, most recently, Tim Eyman’s loathsome 2004 slot machine initiative in a nearly a two to one landslide, and this year’s decisive defeat of privatization in all but three out of 39 counties.

Which in the end is why I’m more than happy to give Meinert’s self-serving proposals the “adult conversation” he says he craves. In fact, I’d even support putting his proposal before voters… as long as voters are also given a reasonable alternative.

Please note that this particular adult conversation includes some adult language. If your ears are too sensitive for that, don’t follow the links.

Goldy links to his own explanation of the facts about revenue sharing and tribal gambling. Here’s what I wrote on the same topic during the 2008 campaign:

Can we get back to the real issues in this state?

By Peter Callaghan

Sunday,October 12, 2008
Edition: SOUTH SOUND, Section: South Sound & Local, Page B01
There really should be some good issues for undecided voters to look at in the Washington governor’s race.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and challenger Dino Rossi are different people with different beliefs and different politics.

So why do the campaigns spend so much time on mostly bogus issues like tribal gambling deals and a five-year-old budget? Must be because they motivate each candidate’s base and might be enough to drive the 2 percent to 3 percent of voters who are still undecided away from one candidate (if not exactly toward either one).

Let’s start with gambling. An ad paid for by the Republican Governors Association asserts that Gregoire cut a special deal with the Spokane Tribe. In return for killing a gambling compact that required the tribe to share some gambling profits with government, the tribes gave Gregoire lots of campaign cash, the RGA claims.

It’s certainly true that Democrats and the state’s gambling tribes are political allies and that most tribal campaign money goes to Democrats. And because everything in gambling politics usually decays into tribes vs. minicasinos, Republicans tend to be aligned with commercial gambling.

That said, Gregoire killed what we’ll call Spokane I because it was an awful deal. Sure, the Spokanes agreed to share a relatively small amount of money. But it came in exchange for a huge expansion in gambling, not just for the Spokanes but for all the other tribes entitled to a similar deal.

The other tribes did oppose Spokane I, and revenue sharing was part of their objection. But they also hated how the Spokanes were treated better, despite years of thumbing their noses at the state. And it ended a policy in which wealthier tribes shared revenue with poor tribes.

Commercial gambling folks hated it because it essentially guaranteed the tribes a monopoly on machine gambling. Most legislators hated it because it gave away too much in return for a small amount of revenue.

And there’s reason for most everyone else to hate it too, because it is horrendous public policy for the state to become business partners with gambling tribes, to profit from each growth in tribal gambling.

Gregoire isn’t totally off the hook, because her people had a role in negotiating Spokane I. But she did not kill it as some sort of trade-off for campaign money. Democrats were going to get that anyway. She killed it to quell a storm of protest against it from nearly everyone involved.

The subsequent Spokane II pact also expanded gambling, but not nearly as broadly or quickly as would have occurred under Spokane I.

Rossi says he’ll try to negotiate revenue sharing if elected, and Gregoire already did. That’s worth discussing.

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