This position is stated in www.indystar.com Our position is: State lawmakers must halt the march toward another expansion of gambling.
Indiana’s foray into state-sanctioned gambling began with the seemingly innocent creation of a lottery 15 years ago. Four years later, the General Assembly approved a bill legalizing the first riverboat casinos.
More boats would follow. So would longer hours for the casinos to stay open. Then came dockside gambling. With each step, Indiana raised a little more revenue and made gambling a little more mainstream.
Indiana already is third in the nation in the collection of gaming revenues, behind only Nevada and Illinois. In 15 years, Indiana has gone from a state that officially discouraged gambling to one that embraces it emphatically.
Now, the state may be poised to add thousands of pull-tabs, slot machines essentially, at horse tracks and off-track betting parlors.
If a bill now before the legislature is passed, Downtown Indianapolis could have what amounts to a land-based casino, complete with 1,500 pull-tab machines, before the end of the year. Another off-track betting parlor in Fort Wayne would be stocked with pull-tabs. And the state’s two horse tracks — Hoosier Park in Anderson and Indiana Downs in Shelby County — would add 1,000 pull-tab machines.
Similar proposals have briefly flourished in the General Assembly, before dying, usually in the Republican-controlled Senate. But the pull-tab legislation is being given good odds of passage this year in part because of the state’s dire financial condition but also because of the unrelenting pressure of the powerful and generous gambling lobby.
Last year, House Speaker Pat Bauer killed a pull-tab bill after it was revealed that his largest single campaign contributor had put down a $4 million offer to buy bandarqq a share of Hoosier Park. If the bill had passed, Bauer’s contributor, Albert H. Schumaker II, would have been in line to reap huge financial rewards.
It’s easy to understand why horse track owners are eager to add pull-tabs. Indiana Downs, which opened in December 2002, earned only half the income it had expected to last year. Income at Hoosier Park dropped 16 percent from 2002. It’s questionable how long the tracks can co-exist without adding gaming devices.
But if pull-tabs were approved, gross receipts would soar, to an estimated combined total of more than $490 million a year.
State lawmakers, meanwhile are confronted with a budget deficit of about $1 billion. Pull-tabs could bring in $66 million a year for the state and more than $84 million for local governments.
But Indiana’s excursion into gambling hasn’t come without costs. It’s always difficult to place a dollar figure on the social damage caused by gambling, but University of Nevada at Las Vegas professor William Thompson estimates that each compulsive gambler costs society from $6,000 to $14,000 a year. Other studies have indicated that divorces, bankruptcies and home foreclosures rise as a result of legalized gambling. (It may not be coincidence that Indiana has led the nation in the rate of personal bankruptcies and home foreclosures in recent years).
The economic benefits of gambling also are questionable. Cities such as Evansville, Lawrenceburg, Gary and East Chicago have been helped by increased tax revenues, but the promise of economic revival has yet to materialize.
“The concept the gaming industry tries to sell . . . is that this is going to be an economic boon, a windfall of sorts. And it really isn’t,” UNLV Professor Fred Preston told the Star last year.
The political costs also must be weighed. State Rep. Chet Dobis, D-Merrillville, has warned that a Statehouse scandal is “inevitable.”
While no scandals have erupted yet, ethical questions about questionable practices have emerged. In 2002, Bauer, D-South Bend, staged an expensive fund-raiser that included gaming lobbyists. Shortly afterward, he introduced a tax and budget bill loaded with enticements for the gaming industry.
A few months later, Rep. Michael Smith, R-Rensselaer, resigned two weeks after being re-elected to take a job as head of the Casino Association of Indiana.
Smith was by no means the first to leave state government to go to work for the gambling industry. Jack Thar, the first executive director of the Indiana Gaming Commission, joined the law firm of Ice Miller as a specialist in gambling issues shortly after leaving his state post. Former House Speakers Phil Bainbridge and Michael Phillips and former legislators John Keeler, Mark Palmer and Richard Thompson later became lobbyists for the industry.
The allure of expanded gambling for lawmakers who are hard-pressed to find additional revenues is undeniable. But it’s an easy answer that comes with many hidden costs.
Legislators must resist the push for pull-tabs. Gov. Joe Kernan must stand firm against another expansion of gambling. After 15 years of stepping down a path where the fallacy of easy wealth and no worries is pitched, it’s time for Indiana to say no further.