Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has circulated a draft bill to create a state-run lottery, legalize casino gambling at the four dog tracks in Alabama, and authorize the governor to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians to allow them to open additional casinos in the state.
Basically, Marsh wants to solve the state’s budget shortfall for next year with gambling revenue, which a study suggests could be in the range of $400 million annually.
Marsh is a Republican, and a another co-sponsor of the bill is a Republican. One of the biggest sources of Republican support in this state is evangelical Christians, who have always opposed legalized gambling on biblical grounds. It makes you wonder why the Republicans would risk alienating their base by proposing not just a lottery, but Vegas-style casino gambling.
I will tell you right up front that I oppose Marsh’s plans, but not for the reasons advanced by those who traditionally oppose state-sponsored gambling.
Church leaders always oppose lotteries and other types of gambling because gambling is a sin, according to the Bible. Indeed, it was church opposition to Governor Don Siegelman’s 1999 proposed lottery that defeated the Siegelman lottery at the polls.
I don’t think gambling is a sin. I like blackjack myself.
Liberals typically oppose lotteries as a way to fund the government because, they say, lotteries and gambling are nothing more than another regressive tax, with the burden falling disproportionately on the poor and working classes. Some liberals believe the government should not encourage the poor and working folks to wastefully spend their money on gambling, and indeed should protect the less educated from making choices that might impoverish themselves and their families.
I say that is too much Father Knows Best. If a grown-up wants to blow money up a hog’s ass, as my wife would say, why is it the government’s role to protect that grown-up from the consequences of his own stupid choices? My stepson spends half his paycheck every month on three rusty old cars he’s trying to fix up. I think that’s a waste myself, but does that mean that the government should outlaw blowing money on beater cars?
I oppose Marsh’s lottery and gambling proposal for the exact same reason some Republicans are supporting it in defiance of the party’s church-going base: what this state really needs is to raise taxes and and restructure the way it taxes, and a state-run lottery and gambling taxes are no substitute for it. Marsh and his fellow anti-taxers are scared to death of Governor Bentley’s modest tax hike proposal, for once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. The anti-taxers worry that once one tax hike occurs without economic Armageddon, voters may start supporting real tax reform, the kind that would let this state move into the 21st century with sufficient funding for state services, and which would allocate the tax burden fairly instead of placing the bulk of it on those least able to afford it.
The special interests that control this state will do anything to prevent that, even if it means making enemies of fundamentalist Christians that makes up the biggest part of the Republican voter base. Governor Bentley’s tax proposal, inadequate though it is, has the special interests in a panic.
Let’s scare them some more. Let’s kill this lottery and gambling distraction and start talking about real tax reform. This state cannot hope to compete without it.