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Casinos are no way to balance the budget

Published August 23, 2007


There's exactly one good reason to legalize casino gambling:

People ought to be able to gamble if they want to. It's fun. Why not?

That's a fine, libertarian position.

All the other arguments for expanding gambling in Florida are bull.

Economic development?

Yeah, sure, I suppose casinos are "economic development." If you want to turn the state into a garish dump. I mean, more than we're already doing.

Job creation? Yeah, that's the new economy I want to see. Dealers and cocktail servers, bouncers and bartenders.

No offense to dealers, servers, bouncers and bartenders. It's just that when we're talking about the economic future of Florida, I would aim higher.

Most tempting of all, there's the "free money" claim.

Our governor, Charlie Crist, is musing about whether making a deal with the Seminole Tribe to expand gambling will help balance the state budget.

Once again, our governor shows himself to be the opposite of our last one, Jeb Bush. More ... practical.

Except that justifying gambling on the grounds of its benefits isn't practical at all.

First, there isn't as much "new" money to casino gambling as they claim. Some of it is money tourists (and Floridians) would spend elsewhere.

Second, there are a lot of hidden costs of gambling that don't get figured in, ranging from crime and public safety concerns to addiction.

Third, our history shows that gambling revenue tends to replace tax dollars over time - not add to them.

If you need evidence, consider the Florida Lottery, which loves to brag about how much it "helps education."

But since we started our lottery in the 1980s, education's share of the state's general revenue has gone down even more. We put money through the front door, and steal it through the back.

Heck, we've even been big fat liars in making promises about our plans for regular taxes in Florida, let alone gambling revenue.

You know that 6 cents we pay to the state in sales tax for every dollar, on top of the penny or two of sales tax that each county charges?

Is your memory as long as mine? Do you remember that the sixth cent of that tax was imposed by the Legislature in 1987, with the promise it would be dedicated to roads, bridges and so forth?

So it always goes with "new" tax dollars. We will rely on casino money more and more to pay for the basic government, and it will become our crutch and our drug. It will sap our principle and our will.

Here is an old-fashioned thing to say. Gambling is a debilitating source of revenue for a democratic society.

It is a false promise. We are tempted by the idea that Somebody Else will pay so that we don't have to. We are converted from being stakeholders to the indolent beneficiaries of the roll of the dice.

Like I said, if you want to be in favor of gambling because people should be free to gamble, that's a fine stance. See you there, in fact.

Just spare me the claim that it also will prevent cavities, cure cancer, balance the budget or be good for Florida. It most certainly will not.

* * *

Am I a raging liberal who hates Republicans? Why do I praise state Sen. Ronda Storms? Check out the transcript of this week's live online chat on TroxBlog at

[Last modified August 22, 2007, 23:20:39]

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