Some state and local government officials and Native American tribal leaders still believe gambling can provide a windfall to solve the woes of inadequate revenue.
Don't bet on it.Since 1963, when New Hampshire started its lottery - the first since 1893 when the federal government prohibited all lottery sales - gambling in its various forms has spread until now 42 states have legalized it. While gambling paid off initially with needed revenue, nearly all those states are now losing - economically, socially and morally.
The growth of gambling, its benefits and its worsening problems, was addressed by Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois in a report to the U.S. Senate on July 31. Since Simon has announced his retirement after 1996, his observations are more credible than those of his political peers who are interested in re-election.
Simon notes that state lotteries are a cowardly way for legislatures to increase revenue without going to the people with the truth about the state's needs and recommending tax increases. How true. And, when the social costs of compulsive gambling are calculated, the revenues are substantially reduced.
A problem gambler can cost society anywhere from the most conservative estimate of $13,200 to $30,000 per year. Gambling brings an increase in crime, child abuse and neglect, divorce and suicide. Since the poor are most vulnerable to its lures, money is diverted from necessities to lottery tickets or slot machines.
At the same time, the promises of increased jobs and tax relief have not proven true. Most created jobs are minimum-wage positions, taxes have often increased, established businesses have been forced to close.
Simon cites the case of Atlantic City where 40 percent of the restaurants not associated with gambling have closed, one-third of the city's retail businesses have closed and unemployment is now the state's highest. Crime there has almost tripled while the population dropped by one-fourth.
The results have been the same in other cities and states where gambling has been tried. The only sure thing has been that gambling is no solver of problems.
Utah has wisely chosen not to follow the example of other states in embracing gambling. But surrounding states' enterprises lure Utahns. Casinos, parimutuel gambling and lotteries abound while few of the promised benefits to residents have materialized.
Simon offers some good advice to his fellow lawmakers in the Senate: Establish sensible limits if gambling cannot be abolished.
He recommends establishing a short-term commission to study the problem. Further, he advises such a commission to look at taxing the gross revenue of new gambling enterprises and providing revenue-sharing assistance to states, Indian tribes and local governments that do not have any form of legalized gambling.
He also says lotteries should comply with Federal Trade Commission truth-in-advertising standards. Why should the New York lottery be allowed to advertise: "We won't stop until everyone's a millionaire"?
It appears governments can become addicted to the siren song of easy winnings. Utah should count itself lucky - or congratulate itself on its wisdom - not to have succumbed.