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States Look to Expand Gambling for Revenue

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As state legislatures around the country consider expanding or introducing gambling in their respective states, speculation abounds that Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will soon introduce federal legislation allowing for online poker.
In light of the JusticeDepartmentsdecision that legalized some forms of online, non-sport gaming in December, Reid has said he wants to work on federal legislation.

Reid told a reporter from a gambling compliance website: “We cannot have a series of laws around the country related to gaming. I know a lot about gaming … I’m a former chairman of the Nevada (Gaming) Commission and I think it’s very important that we have a national law.”

The exact nature of that law is still unknown.

Holly Wetzel, vice president of communications for the American Gaming Association, said her organization is unaware of any specific details related to Reid’s proposed legislation, nor does she know when any such legislation would be submitted.

“We know what everyone else knows at this point,” Wetzel said. “Harry Reid and John Kyl (R-Ariz.) are working on online gaming legislation. That’s all we know.”

Les Bernal, executive director of Stop Predatory Gambling, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, said he is concerned about Reid and Kyl’s legislation.

“Gambling is a failed government policy,” Bernal said. “State lotteries have failed to produce the promised revenues. They have pushed people into deeper personal debt, created addictions and fed off them. Why would we want to bring a casino into every home, office, dorm and smart phone 24 hours a day?”

Bernal said his organization is also watching what he calls the “vanguard states” – Illinois, New York, New Jersey and California. All four are in the process of expanding or planning expansion of commercial gaming.

Wetzel said New York has finally opened the first casino in New York City proper, the Aqueduct Casino in Queens.

Also, New York and Illinois were the two states that asked for a decision from the Justice Department to allow for conducting portions of their state lotteries online.

In addition to New York and Illinois, Wetzel said Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts and Ohio were looking at legislation.

“Florida is looking at three separate properties in the state to expand casino operation,” Wetzel said. “Kentucky talks about introducing legislation every year to increase revenue, so we expect legislation soon. Maryland is looking to add table games; they already have slot casinos.”

The American Gaming Association only works with commercial gaming enterprises.

Native American gaming is handled by the National Indian Gaming Commission, a division of the Department of the Interior.

Oregon is also facing a gambling measure in its upcoming election – Measure 75, which was placed on the ballot by voter initiative.

If it passes, Measure 75 would allow for the establishment of a casino on the grounds of a former greyhound racetrack.

David Leslie, executive director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, an organization that is protesting off-reservation expansion in Oregon, said: “Our position on gaming has centered on the inappropriate role of government as a promoter of gaming as a revenue source, while at the same time avoiding the real work of revenue reform and development of a tax system that is sustainable and reduces the reliance on lottery revenue.”

That position is echoed by Bernal’s organization.

“If you look at government advertising today, it’s reduced to two issues,” Bernal said. “The government promotes military service and gambling. They don’t have ads for anything else. The promotion of gambling to raise revenue turns the working class into the lottery class. The symbol for the gambling initiative in Oregon is a fingers crossed logo. Instead of expanding the middle class and promoting a ‘we can do it’ attitude, the government is banking on luck.”

Wetzel said gaming organizations are in the entertainment business and have never presented themselves as a single solution to a state’s funding problem.

“We believe we can be part of a rounded solution,” she said. “Most people enjoy our facilities with no problems, and we do a lot to help and educate those with problems.”

Opponents like Leslie insist that there is a disproportionate amount of income raised from those with problem or pathological gambling issues.         

“I don’t think our reliance on state-sponsored gambling will end anytime soon,” Leslie said, “but we are continuing to lift up both the revenue and the human and community impacts caused by gaming and gambling that are lost in the advertising and marketing.”

Leslie is an interviewee in SacredTexts, SocialDuty, a documentary that offers a moral critique of government initiatives that raise revenue through predatory gambling programs that target the poor.

GregHorton is a freelance writer and adjunct professor of philosophy and humanities. He lives in Oklahoma City.