shutterstock_250351756

We have known for months that a deal was in the works to expand gambling operations in Alabama either through a lottery, a tribal compact, or privately run casinos. This move under Republican leadership is disheartening, but not surprising. Any chance at a money grab, be it through tax increases or gambling, is far easier than taking a scalpel to the drivers of the current budget shortfall.

The General Fund woes present a very real challenge for our leaders, but the public is being fed a number of false choices as to how this problem must be solved. We should not be forced to choose which revenue generator is the least offensive. There are still plenty of good ideas and even bills on the table that would help the state do what the private sector does–scale back spending in a down year. The appeal of easy money through gambling is that those tough decisions can be sidestepped, but not without repercussions.

The Policy Institute’s position on using either of these tactics to generate money for the state has been well- publicized throughout our twenty-five year history. The success of lotteries and gambling, of course, depends upon the participation of the poor and vulnerable. The state then becomes addicted to these funding streams, and politicians actually desire for more and more individuals and families to recklessly spend their money this way. Calls to further expand gambling will become incessant, and government will be expanded right along with it. Simultaneously, Alabama’s leaders will become owned by these entities whose power and influence are made possible through money lost by our own state’s gamblers. Due to saturated markets, the only people visiting Alabama’s casinos will be Alabamians, especially its poorest, and local economies will be left to bear the brunt of this bad decision by state leaders.

While casino gaming is being advertised as a job creator, the jobs that typically come with gambling tend to be low-wage positions that, because of falling demand, are short-lived. In the past year alone, two casinos in Mississippi have closed. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, four casinos have closed or will close soon, including its newest one, the $2.4 billion Revel. Thousands of workers in both states who thought that gambling would be their ticket to success have been laid off.

The irony in all of this is that 20 other states currently face budget shortfalls. Most of these shortfalls are substantially larger than what we face in Alabama. Guess how many of the “shortfall states” have lotteries? All but one of them. Guess how many have casinos? 14 of them.

Unless a state’s spending problems are fixed–most of which are related to Medicaid, prisons, and public pensions–new revenues can’t keep pace with the rising costs of these services or programs. For instance, Alabama’s share of Medicaid costs has doubled in the past 10 years and shows no signs of slowing down. As a result, the state’s need for more of your money through one mechanism or another will never cease to be necessary.

API has proposed or supported a number of ideas that, if implemented, would help fill the budget gap. We’ve researched and recommended various cost-saving reforms to our public pensions, Medicaid prescription reform, eliminating vacant positions within state government, privatizing ABC and bidding out various nonessential government services, exploring tax amnesty to generate revenue already owed to the state, and bringing health insurance premiums of state employees more in balance with those of private sector workers. Some of these ideas are making their way through the legislature, and some are not. All of them would be challenging to pass–they are all disfavored by one group or another–but none of them exploit the poor.

Using the excuse of a budget shortfall to pave the way for more gambling is irresponsible, the effects of which would plague our state long past the political careers of those leading this charge.


MORE ON API in the Editorials

Tell the Whole Truth

It’s disturbing to me how modern partisanship has curtailed Americans’ ability to tell the truth, the whole truth. I’m not talking about politicians here—I’m speaking of voters. People like you and me. There was a time when citizens across the political spectrum generally stipulated to the fact that all candidates and elected officials are flawed […]

Christ, Christmas, and Counseling

We call it “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for many, it simply is not. Those who suffer from depression or anxiety often struggle more during the holiday season than at any other time of the year. The loss of loved ones seems magnified when we are faced with the rituals of the […]

The Medical Marijuana Bill Looks More Like a Trojan Horse

There is a great deal of effort going on in Montgomery to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. So much effort, in fact, that a review of the draft legislation indicates that the Republican majority may well be asked very soon to throw out every conservative principle that each of them ran on […]

MORE ON Fiscal Policy

For Whom the Bridge Tolls

If you’ve followed the news lately you could not have missed the fact that there has been a kerfluffle of the highest order near the Alabama coastline. Like a scene from the old fairy tale, the Three Billy Goats Gruff, the local populace has thrown the “bridge trolls” into the bay and seemingly defeated the infamous toll payments that were at issue. The difference between our coastal brethren and sistren and the Goats is that the Goats got a bridge out of it.

Statewide Radio: Phil Williams on Viewpoint Alabama

API director of policy strategy Phil Williams recently appeared on Viewpoint Alabama, a weekly radio show that is broadcast on over 60 Alabama radio stations, to discuss the potential toll bridge in Mobile, the increase in the gas tax, and more. You can listen to the interview here (beginning at the 0:30 timestamp). Viewpoint Alabama, […]

J. Pepper Bryars: Time to stop daydreaming about a lottery

Lottery supporters were left saying “so close …” last week after the latest attempt to establish the game in Alabama collapsed under the weight of competing interests and power plays. It was reminiscent of the failed lotto player, successfully matching his numbers one-by-one until his hopes are dashed when that final digit proves ever elusive. […]

MORE ON Lottery and Gambling

If the People Only Knew

“The people want to vote!”—the most oft-repeated catchphrase of the lottery debate. Even politicians who declare themselves personally opposed to a state-run lottery try to justify their support of it because “the people want to vote.” But politicians know full well that they have not been honest with the people when it comes to a […]

Looking at the Lottery Math

“Which is the most immoral,” Governor Robert Bentley mused philosophically to the press last week, “buying five lottery tickets with money you earned or allowing a child to die?” A state lottery in Alabama is “the only real choice,” he warned ominously. “There is no plan B.” Governor Bentley was making an extremely serious argument, to […]

State Lotteries and the Government’s Betrayal of the Poor

A lot has changed since 1890 when President Benjamin Harrison reminded citizens that lotteries “debauched and defrauded” the public. Today, however, state governments have become the biggest proponents of lotteries. In fact, forty-four states have succumbed to the pressure to enact lotteries.  Hoping to fill a $200 million-plus budget shortfall, there is once again a […]

MORE FROM Katherine Robertson and Caleb Crosby

Alabama Needs Real Hope, Not a State Lottery

There are a number of policies, particularly those that stimulate economic growth, that are proven solutions to poverty. Just as easily identifiable are policies that exacerbate poverty. Sometimes these policies have good intentions of serving the poor, but then the Law of Unintended Consequences strikes. Other times, policies are promoted and adopted with blatant disregard […]

What Will Be the Legacy of the New Legislature?

Lately, Alabamians have struggled to discern any difference between what they thought they voted against in November and what they might be getting in the coming months. A commitment to oppose tax increases is now being replaced with a “bold” move to increase taxes, without any reference as to how this could impact bringing new […]