The Lincoln Journal Star has spoken in favor of expanded gambling in Nebraska twice recently ("Wrong debate hanging over historical horses races in state," Dec. 11 and "Nebraska must seriously weigh new approach to sports betting," Jan. 30), both times regretting that Nebraska is leaving money “on the table” in Iowa. The newspaper referred to revenue that it believes the state could reap from allowing casinos now and online sports betting soon.
There are bills in the Legislature to allow these things right now. But, unfortunately, this newspaper says, certain “roadblocks” always appear to opening up gambling. I would like to think that Gambling with the Good Life, an organization I belong to, is one block on that road. We certainly try to be. Why? Because, on closer examination, we find no pot of gambling gold for Nebraska and certainly not at the end of a rainbow.
In 2016 the Rockefeller Institute of Government issued a comprehensive report entitled “State Revenues From Gambling: Short-Term Relief, Long-Term Disappointment”. The report examines every states’ lotteries, casinos, video gaming, horse racing and the hybrid now trying to slip into Nebraska, virtual video slots at horse tracks.
Focusing on casinos, as the Journal Star has, the report distinguishes between “early adopting states,” like Nevada, a casino monopoly from 1931 to 1976, arguably a financial success; and New Jersey, who got in on the act in 1976. But, by the ‘90s, when our neighbors South Dakota, Iowa and Colorado jumped in, along with about six other states, the revenue trend was starting downhill. The rest of the casino states came in this century.
By studying the data, the report details a pattern. New casinos draw gamblers from the new area — but only from that area. If Nebraska opens new casinos, do we expect tourists from Iowa and South Dakota? Not likely. It should be expected that the old casinos will lose the customers who come to the new casinos, and they will not be replaced. In keeping with a pattern that has been detected, business will ultimately decline at each casino. Revenue is likely to go down over time in each state.
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The Journal Star editorial on sports betting included the thoughtful observation that “Nebraska needs recurring revenue to help provide meaningful property tax relief ...,” with "recurring" being the significant word.
The Rockefeller report concludes that overall gambling tax and fee revenues in the U.S. “have not kept pace with the growth in state and local government tax collections and overall economy.” That is, gambling income is not a strong and reliable recurring base for government programs.
And we have not spoken of the costs of expanded gambling. What about increased crime? It looks like a “yes.” Some studies show crime up in counties with casinos in a range of 6% to 30%.
What about bankruptcies? They “follow a "U-shaped" curve. What does that tell us? What do we know about problem or pathological gambling? We can describe it better than we can deal with it.
Of course, it is not cold hard facts and trends that bring people out of their comfortable homes and into controversy to oppose expanded state-sanctioned gambling sold as freely chosen fun, fun, fun. It is always some heart-rending human tragedy that has touched them, directly or indirectly.
In Gambling with the Good Life, we have Nebraskans whose multi-million-dollar business was wiped out by an embezzling gambling addict. We have people who have listened to a friend or relative tell their story of compulsive gambling when there was no obvious clue. We have people moved to tears at the gas station when they see people who seem to have only the slightest grip on their life, in line to buy lottery tickets week after week.
We offer this information to help balance the scales when we think about all that “easy money” we’re just passing up that could solve Nebraska’s problems. Please think hard and study. There is evidence that it is not as reliable as we wish, and it comes with a high cost in heartbreak and pain that all Nebraskans must pay.
Kandra Hahn is a Lincoln resident and a member of Gambling with the Good Life.