This afternoon my inbox played host to a condescending email with a friendly, innocuous-sounding subject: “Let Texans Decide.” It came from this organization, pushing gambling expansion with very one-sided facts and figures. The question of legalizing slot machines and casinos in Texas seems to be making the rounds with legislative campaigns as well, and despite the fact that the gambling lobby’s key lackey in the House was defeated in his primary, we may well see a revival of a state constitutional amendment designed to expand gambling permanently.
If Texans are eventually going to decide on whether to expand legalized gambling in our state, they deserve to know more than whitewashed facts about “revenue” going to neighboring states. Stats have shown repeatedly that only a very small portion of money gambled is actually eligible for taxation, making the rate of return pitiful for the state. The jobs created by expanded gambling are tourist-industry jobs, paying at the minimum wage or just slightly above, creating and perpetuating poverty. The amount of regulation required for expanded gambling means expanded government—more state workers dependent on tax dollars, counting on state pensions, in the Gaming Commission and various law enforcement agencies.
In Oklahoma last winter, 11,000 “problem gamblers” had to be banned from the state’s casinos—how much would such a ban cost the state of Texas? Meanwhile, it’s been proven that gambling expansion contributes to higher crime rates. In Louisiana in 1995, half of the state’s district attorneys noted that gambling was related to the increase of crime in their communities. The financial impact of increased crime on a local community can be huge and that doesn’t count what the cost would be in lost revenue as companies choose to stay away from gambling-heavy areas, and as people choose to move further from the cities to avoid it.
Gambling revenue is hardly reliable; witness the economy of states infamous for their legalized gambling, New Jersey and Nevada. Unemployment today is higher in both states than the national unemployment rate. In fact, Nevada is leading the nation in unemployment and home foreclosures. This isn’t a state whose policies Texas should follow. Michael Quinn Sullivan noted in February, of the five U.S. cities hit hardest by the recession, four were in gambling states, and two in Nevada.
So, really, why not let Texans decide? The research has been done, and we need to educate Texans now to make sure that if the chance to “decide” appears on their ballots, they are armed with information.