State Sen. Gwen Margolis of Miami made it abundantly clear what motivates lawmakers pushing to increase gambling in Florida.
During a meeting last week, Margolis, a Democrat, suggested allowing the Seminole Indians to offer roulette and craps in their gambling facilities, which are now limited to bingo-like slot machines and table games:
“We would probably, without opening one new casino, have much more money,” she said.
Clearly, expanding gambling is seen as a way to increase state revenues — without the appearance of increasing taxes.
But make no mistake. Gambling represents a tax, a hidden and regressive one at that. Gambling entices citizens to waste their money in casinos, where the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against them, and the state gets a sizable cut.
This is not a harmless pastime. Those who gamble regularly are virtually guaranteed to lose money. The Wall Street Journal recently surveyed Internet gamblers over two years and found that only 11 percent of the players ended up in the black over that period and that the winners averaged less than $150. The reporters found the Internet win ratios were similar to casinos.
Heavy gamblers fared the worst: “Of the top 10 percent of bettors — those placing the largest number of total wagers over the two years — about 95 percent ended up losing money, some dropping tens of thousands of dollars. Big losers of more than $5,000 among these heavy gamblers outnumbered big winners by a staggering 128 to 1.”
The Journal also detailed how gambling harshly victimizes those who can’t control themselves: “Of the 4,222 casino customers, just 2.8 percent — or 119 big losers — provided half of the casino’s take, and 10.7 percent provided 80 percent of the take.”
Casinos thrive by soaking those who can’t control their gambling.
Florida already has far too much gambling. It should not be looking to promote even additional ways to trick citizens out of money.
This is no way to bolster the economy or state revenues.
As John Kindt, professor emeritus of business at the University of Illinois and gambling expert, has put it, states cannot gamble their way to prosperity.
Every dollar that goes toward gambling is coming out of “consumer products, it’s coming out of cars, refrigerators and computers, and it’s even coming out of food, clothing and bank accounts.”
He estimates that for every job that is created by legalized gambling, the local economy loses one to two jobs.
Lawmakers should not be looking toward gambling for financial solutions.
If the goal is generating more revenue, its elected leaders should be honest about it, rather than using a disguised tax to slip money out of citizens’ pocket.