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GUEST COLUMN: More slots won’t fix the budget

I want to share my thoughts about adding slot machines to existing racetracks in Minnesota.

On Feb. 16, the editorial board was lobbied to write an endorsement for racino gambling. We were told this would add $100 million new tax dollars to the state’s coffers, possibly solving everything from K-12 education shortfalls, building the Vikings a new stadium, filling potholes, and who knows what else.

First of all, as much as it is, $100 million is less than a drop in the $5 billion deficit. But do you see the game they are playing? If you hate the potholes — you tell you legislators yes. If you want the Vikings to stay, you say yes. If you’re in public education, you’ll take anything at this point, so you say yes.  If enough small constituencies say yes, they’ve earned their probably not small lobbyist fee, and the private, for-profit company that wants the racino bill passed is very happy.

Will all these little constituencies get what they expect? Of course not. Will the private company in Connecticut that owns the track get their take — of course. Will gambling solve Minnesota’s budget problems? Dream on.

Gambling is a very poor way to fund anything. It’s a tax on people who refuse to understand that the odds of winning are against them.  It’s an unsteady revenue stream — who knows how much will be generated a year from now. Ask any pastor or counselor in town and they will tell you the effect gambling has had on families and individuals.

The state doesn’t need to be our parent, setting the moral standard, but isn’t there something wrong with encouraging more people to “cast lots”?  A night at the casino can be fun, good food, oh well, I lost a few dollars. But making the state dependent on large numbers of people losing their money, and making it more convenient for them to do so, just seems wrong. And a lot of these same people are the ones who vote against local school referendums or fume about city budgets because they can’t afford their taxes to go up maybe three dollars a month. Think of the common good if even some of those gambling losses had gone directly into city and school budgets.

And what about the tribal issues? Another treaty broken, or at least skirted around? Existing casinos have offered opportunities for many in the tribal bands. The casinos buy goods and services in the local economies and employ a lot of people outstate who spend their incomes locally. Do we want even more money concentrated in the Twin Cities?

Shoulders are shrugged, the genie is out of the bottle. Slot machines, pull tabs, lotteries — they’re already a reality, so why not just capture another chunk? Forget the genie. To me it’s a slippery slope. Putting slots at racetracks, won’t bars be next? Maybe we should legalize marijuana and prostitution? There’s got to be tax money we’re missing out on there!

Think back 50 years.  Everyone shouldered the tax burden that educated a lot of us in great public schools, the interstate highways were built (and plowed), we even put men on the moon. It was all accomplished without legalized gambling. I urge the state politicians to not take the easy way out by undermining the tribal agreements, and to write tax laws that are adequate and fair, but maybe not popular.

JACKIE BURKEY is a north Brainerd resident and a member of the Brainerd Dispatch’s editorial board.