Politicians in both parties are betting that allowing more gambling will make them winners at the polls by raising revenue without appearing to raise taxes.
Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Steve Beshear of Kentucky, both Democrats, each want seven casinos.
In Kansas, where the state owns casinos, Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican, wants more gambling money to pay down state debts.
In Minnesota, Governor Mark Dayton of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party wants more gambling to finance a new stadium for the privately owned Vikings football team.
Florida legislators are mulling three casinos, one in Miami. Illinois lawmakers may allow a casino in Chicago.
In Texas, Governor Rick Perry says he opposes more gambling. Yet eight years ago he called the legislature into special session to allow gambling at the gas pumps to help finance schools. He lost that bet.
Egging on these and other politicians is anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, who has made “tax” the vilest four-letter word in American politics. Norquist wrote Texas politicians a letter in January saying that more gambling is better than more taxes.
As a longtime student of gambling companies and their regulation, I find these developments troubling. People who want to play should have an honest place to wager. But states should only allow, not encourage, gambling. Basic government services should not depend on gambling revenue, as Perry’s school finance proposal did.
No matter how much gambling the law allows, taxes on the money players lose will never be enough to finance the government services on which jobs and private wealth creation depend.