February 16, 2003
Will the budget crunch lead to casinos?

And here we go again on another well-worn subject. With the budget crisis and the doctrinal unwillingness to examine the state's revenue streams, a bill to legalize casinos is once more making its way through the Lege. The difference is that now more people are considering it:

While most legislators publicly hold the same stance on gambling, privately they share doubts about the governor's plan to resolve the budget crisis without finding new revenue sources.

Recently, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, when asked about the chances of a casino bill reaching the Senate floor, said it was unlikely, but added that the climate may change in the coming months.

"You never say never in politics," said Tom Rodgers, spokesman for the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of Texas, which is lobbying to revive casino gambling on tribal land in the state.

"There will come a point where the citizens of Texas may not be able to support such difficult spending decisions and they will have to look at the revenue side," he said.

The arguments for casino gambling are roughly the same as those that led to the creation of the state Lottery in the early 90s, the last time we had a budget crisis. Basically, the argument goes, other states have casinos/lotteries, and Texans want to play casino games/buy lottery tickets, so why should that money leave the state?

I don't have a problem with the concept of legalized gambling. I'm sufficiently libertarian for that. I do have a problem with the state coming to depend on revenue gleaned from gambling. For one thing, as we've seen with the Lottery, it's not a particularly dependable source of revenue. For another, it's mostly just another way to squeeze money from lower income folks.

I do wonder just how much extra money will be gained by allowing casinos. From what I can tell, people who cross into Louisiana to gamble do so as part of a vacation or day trip. Will those people really prefer to drive to the Astrodome to drop their change into the one-armed bandits? In other words, are casinos a lure because they're destinations, or because they're where you go to scratch your urge to gamble? Has anyone done a study on this? (Answer: Yes, there's been a study done. Read more here.)

If it turns out that people would make trips to the local casino part of their regular leisure routine, wouldn't that just be moving dollars around instead of adding them? I mean, I'd have to cut back or give up on other things if I were to add regular casino visits into my routine. Isn't that just going to mean that fewer of my dollars will be spent at other clubs, restaurants, whatever? There's a fair amount of evidence that this has been the case elsewhere, as well as evidence that casinos increase crime in their areas.

(It should be noted that Atlantic City is finally starting to see some of the promised benefits of casinos, and some other places have had fewer problems than anticipated. That all strikes me as rather faint praise, but take it as you will.)

I was skeptical about the promises made by pro-lottery forces in 1991 (anyone else remember how lottery money was supposed to go towards education?), and twleve years later I'm at least as skeptical of promises being made by pro-casino forces now. I don't see any good coming from this proposal, and I hope it dies in committee.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 16, 2003 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

i do think it would be very good to have state owned casinos in the state let the people of texas vote on casinos ive ben to casinos inm louisiana and i do know some ritch texans

Posted by: jameslyle on October 28, 2003 4:57 AM