The idea of gambling as a revenue stream has always caused me disquiet.
My conservative Southern Baptist upbringing perhaps predisposes me against gambling to raise public revenue.
So too does my study of U. S. Southern history: after the Civil War, most Southern states instituted lotteries of some type, having no tax base left. In almost every case, lottery administrators ended up in South America living the sweet life of other people’s money.
At the same time, I do enjoy the ponies on a nice summer day. I wouldn’t play poker, but a penny a point at bridge wouldn’t faze me; I do not have a blanket objection to friendly wagers amongst those who play fair and can afford it. These days, a game of penny ante poker can cost less than an evening at the movies.
It’s justifying state lotteries and, to a much greater extent, slot machine palaces as sources of tax revenue that makes me queasy.
I think that, thanks to Renee Loth’s column in the Boston Globe, I have discovered the source of my disquiet. Here’s the snippet of discovery:
The capitulation to expanded gambling in Massachusetts represents a failure of imagination and will. After years of relentless attacks on broad-based taxes as the fairest way to fund public needs, even liberals are disheartened. Why not just accept the revenues from what former governor William Weld called “voluntary taxation’’ instead?
Here’s why. Gambling revenue – like user fees, naming rights, specialty license plates, and other forms of “voluntary’’ contributions to government – erodes a fundamental idea of democracy: that we’re all in this together. Instead of all people contributing equitably to the common good, a casino economy fractures the social compact. And it asks the most from those who can afford it least.
Clearly, we are not all in this together.
Those who have the most are in it the least, so the alternative is the fleece.