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States Look to Gambling to Cure Budget Woes

Across the nation, states are betting on gambling and against raising taxes to deal with budget problems.

“Faced with massive, unexpected debts, many states are taking a fresh look at gambling as a possible cure to their fiscal woes, triggering what could become the first broad expansion of casinos and slot machines in a decade,” the Washington Post reported.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
The Post said, “The hunt for an antidote to budget shortfalls that doesn’t require raising taxes has softened resistance to gaming in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Maryland, where opposition once ran high, and in New York, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.”
 
A new poll in Maryland found that 51 percent of likely voters supported the legalization of slot machines at racetracks and 36 percent opposed it, according to the Baltimore Sun. In 1998, 48 percent of voters opposed slots at racetracks, compared to 39 percent who favored expanded gambling at tracks.
 
The Sun reported that “Maryland’s economic and budget issues appear to be driving the significant shift in voter support for slots at racetracks.”
 
This shift in voter attitudes favors Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Ehrlich, who backs legalizing slot machines and using the revenue to support public schools.
 
His Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, opposes slots.
 
“I’m looking at the studies that show that it increases addiction, it increases crime, that on a cost-benefit analysis, it really isn’t worth it,” she said, according to the Sun. “It looks like you are getting the dollars in, but you are having to put more police, more correctional officers, more treatment programs, and it just isn’t worth it.”
 
In Tennessee, a referendum on the lottery is on the November ballot. Lottery proponent State Senator Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, told the Tennessean that he thinks the state’s budget problems will cause voters to support the lottery, which will provide some money for college scholarships.
 
The Post said gambling initiatives will appear on the ballots of other states in November, and some 26 states will face efforts to legalize gambling in the next year.
 
Thomas Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (www.ncalg.org) told the Post that with the current economic situation, “We’re going to get overrun.”
 
Scott Harshbarger, president of citizen action group Common Cause, said the gambling industry is trying “to take advantage of vulnerable states and to ally with state officials who don’t want to make tough decisions about taxes,” according to the Post.
 
One state where the lottery faces strong opposition is North Carolina, despite the state’s “severe budget crisis” and active support for the lottery from Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, said Doug Cole, executive director of the Council on Christian Life and Public Affairs of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. 
 
“At this point, it appears unlikely that the lottery bill will pass in the House of Representatives of the General Assembly,” Cole told EthicsDaily.com.