Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Will Oklahoma voters pass a tax on stupidity?

In less than four weeks, Oklahoma voters will decide whether to levy taxes on stupidity.

We're talking about State Questions 705 and 706, and SQ 712. The first two would legalize a state lottery "for education" and SQ 712 would enable Indian casinos to ramp up the action with more advanced "game machines" (slots) and offer card games. It would permit certain horse track establishments to add slot machines to give folks something to do when the ponies aren't running.

As always we are being encouraged to vote yes "for the children." (What, we wonder, cannot be promoted as a boon to the kiddies?) The state promises that "net proceeds of the lottery will be used for education purposes" and further that "Net proceeds will equal at least 35% of ticket proceeds except for the first two years." (We must assume that net proceeds will be less than 35% for the first two years, although there is no mention exactly of why.)

The expansion of Oklahoma gambling, we are told, will benefit "the children" and horse growers. Here's what SQ 712 actually says:
"Proceeds from authorized gaming at racetracks go to:
1. the racetrack,
2. the owners of winning horses,
3. horsemen's organizations,
4. breed organizations, and
5. the State to be used for educational purposes.
Some of the proceeds from authorized gaming by Indian tribes goes to the State. The State would use these proceeds for educational purposes and compulsive gambling programs."
Leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether more slots will save the horse business in Oklahoma, let's focus on the lottery issue.

Pro-gambling forces have promised that state education will be boosted by $71 million in the first year! Let's do a little math. Since we do not know the percentage of net, we will be charitable and give it 35%. That means Sooners will spend about $202.9 million on lottery tickets. There are about 3 million men, women and children in Oklahoma. The lottery would constitute a $67.63 tax on each man, woman and child.

But the lottery is not assessed equally across the board. The lottery is a voluntary tax charged only to those who are desperate, addicted, foolish or hood-winked into thinking that "these are good odds." Children will not be eligible to buy tickets, so we are probably looking at a pool of between 500,000 to one million participants.

That means an average buy-in of $150 to $300 per player.

Yes, but … the manly pro-lottery guy will say … out-of-state gamblers will also play our lottery, helping to fund education "for the children."

Sure. Further reducing the odds that an in-state player will win. Already long, foolish odds made more ridiculous by expanding the pool of the stupid.

"Why should you care?" the pretty pro-lottery gal will coo in your ear, bending ever so carefully not to spill the tray of complimentary drinks she has prepared for the new patrons of the horse racing casino. "If you don't play, you don't have to pay!"

Truth, but only partial truth. The reality is there will be people who foolishly or desperately will put the baby's milk money into lottery tickets. There will be missed car and house payments. There will be increased borrowing against credit cards. Inevitably there will be bankruptcies, broken homes, and in a few cases at least there will be those who turn to crime when the odds fail them.
In order for a meager few to win, many must lose.

In the long run, everyone will help pay the price for those who fail. Why? Because we are a compassionate people. Our compassion generally exceeds our common sense. True compassion is working for policies that strengthen individuals and families to stand on their own, independent of any need for mega-million miracles.

In order for a meager few to win, many must lose.
I have seen it with my own eyes in other states, up close and personal. I once watched a close friend frequently gamble away most of his weekly paycheck, and then double down a week later in the rabid and desperate hope of getting it all back again. "Oh but that's addiction," our pro-gambling friends will say. "That's why there will be more money allocated from casino gambling to help compulsive gamblers." Yeah, sure. I wonder what psychiatric institute will claim the contract with the State of Oklahoma to provide this "free" service? Probably affiliated with the same institutions who provide anti-smoking education through the state's part of the tobacco tax money, right?

Question: If an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure, wouldn't it be better to make sure the addictive/compulsive never has the opportunity?

Question 2: If the horse racing industry cannot survive because the public prefers another produce on which to gamble, does it deserve to be saved? And why bother with the horses if the money is really in slot machines?

(Don't get me wrong. I like horses. I think the failure of the horse industry is one of imagination, not of gambling options.)

I will say it again. True compassion involves helping people stand on their own feet. As the saying goes, "If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime." The corollary, as far as gambling goes, should read: "Sell a man a lottery ticket from Texas, he will have high hopes for a day. Give a man an Oklahoma lottery to play, and he will gamble away his life's savings."

Note: At no time have I tried to use a religious argument against the gambling issue. That does not mean that a good case cannot be made from a spiritual perspective. I'll save that for another post.


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