This is a tricky one, I have to admit. I am "thinking out loud" here, so bear with me...
On the ballot here in Missouri, Proposition A does a few things:
- raises taxes on casinos in Missouri, from 20% to 21%,
- caps the number of casinos in Missouri at the present number (I think there are 12),
- eliminates the loss limit, which currently is $500 per two hours,
- designates the revenue generated will go toward education.
Ameristar Casinos and Pinnacle Entertainment are the two big sponsors of the proposition, and have put in over 6 million dollars combined in their effort to get it passed.
Given that gambling is a bad thing, and given that education is a good thing, what should we do about Proposition A? Increasing taxes on casinos would be good. Eliminating the loss limit would be bad. And capping the number of casinos in the state would be good on the one hand because there wouldn't be any more casinos, but bad on the other hand because the existing casinos would benefit from the lack of competition.
More money for education is good, but funding schools using money that comes from gambling losses seems a wee bit unethical to me. And I'm not so sure that this plan actually increases overall funding for education (more on that below). Plus it kind of seems like the casino industry is trying to use the feel-good issue of education to get legislation passed that will really help them a lot. It just feels like we might be getting played on this one.
Take the loss limit itself. Right now you can only lose $500 every two hours, maximum. But Proposition A says, "The commission shall regulate the wagering structure for gambling excursions [including providing a maximum loss of five hundred dollars per individual player per gambling excursion], provided that the commission shall not establish any regulations or policies that limit the amount of wagers, losses, or buy in amounts." To me, that sounds like a contradiction. A maximum loss of $500 per player per trip, but no regulations to limit on the amount of losses? What? Having cake and eating it?
There's something fishy in there, and I think it ends up favoring the casino at the expense of the individual, and the family. Without a loss limit, a compulsive gambler could lose the family's house in a few hours. And the casino feels really bad about that all the way to the bank.
Now, a few years back, when Missouri voted to allow gambling at all, we were told that the money would go to education. But it ended up replacing money that had come from the general revenue rather than supplementing it. The language of the current proposition seems to say that won't happen this time, but color me skeptical.
The proposition says, "The schools first elementary and secondary education improvement fund shall be state revenues collected from gaming activities for purposes of Article III, Section 39(d) of the Constitution. Moneys in the schools first elementary and secondary education improvement fund shall be kept separate from the general revenue fund as well as any other funds or accounts in the state treasury."
Okay, that seems legit. But there is no way to guarantee that future state budgets will not lower the amount budgeted to schools from the general revenue fund, rationalizing that since there is all this new money in this new "Schools First" fund, there doesn't need to be as much from the general fund. It doesn't matter if the money is "kept separate" if the amount from the general fund is lowered - the end result is the same. Casinos make even more money than they are, and schools get the same level of support they always have.
At the moment, I just can't see how Proposition A is a good thing.
For more info:
Here is a website in favor. Here is a website against. What do you think?