I've got two words in response to nightlife entrepreneur Dave Meinert, and his commentary on Publicola promoting gambling and drinking as the panacea to state and local government budget woes: Atlantic. Fucking. City.
Okay, that's three words, but as somebody whose fondest childhood memories were forged on the late-60's/early-70's beach and boardwalk of that formerly charming if faded seaside resort, and who as an adult watched the advent of casino gambling bring with it all of the crime and seediness rightly associated with the industry, while fulfilling none of the promised economic prosperity for all, I can't help but insert the word "Fucking" into the city's once proud name.
And while Meinert calls for "an adult conversation about adult entertainment," his vision of $1.5 billion of additional tax-free, no-strings-attached state revenue is pure fantasy.
Washington currently makes no direct revenue from tribal gaming, a $1.6 billion dollar industry in this state. In 2005, Gov. Gregoire passed on a compact with the tribes that would have brought $140 million per year into state coffers. It’s time to revisit this deal and get that money.
Uh-huh. Has Meinert actually bothered to read the two compacts and the federal law governing such, as well as the numerous scholarly and government studies on the economics and impact of casino gaming? Or is his understanding of the issue based entirely on the embarrassingly misinformed 2008 Seattle P-I article he cites in support, a piece I devastatingly dismantled at the time?
The revenue-sharing compact Gov. Gregoire rightly rejected (with broad, bipartisan support, I might add) would have increased tribal gaming tenfold in Washington state, by exploding the number of slot machines, eliminating betting limits, and allowing for 24-hour operations and off-reservation casinos. Under federal law, one can't simply reopen a compact and impose revenue sharing; the tribes are going to demand something in return. And the demands the Spokanes originally negotiated would have forever changed the character of Washington state.
You know, just like the casinos changed Atlantic Fucking City.
Meinert goes on to claim that the state could raise another "quick" half billion dollars or so by legalizing slot machines in bars and card rooms throughout the state (you know, like the bars Meinert owns), while doubling state revenue from alcohol by eliminating nightlife closing hours and tripling the number of liquor stores.
If the state currently makes $200 million per year from liquor sales and taxes, I’m pretty sure we could double that amount.
Yeah, you know... by doubling alcohol consumption.
The problem is, none of this new revenue comes problem-free. Double alcohol consumption and triple its availability, and you'll inevitably double or triple the very real economic, social and direct government costs of alcohol abuse and addiction. That's double the number of DUI's, double the underage drinking, double the incidence of alcohol related spousal abuse, double the broken homes, double the lost work hours and double the healthcare costs. You know, double the number of ruined lives.
Not all of that comes with an easily quantifiable price tag to taxpayers, but much of it does. Yet you don't see those costs factored into Meinert's rosy equations, not to mention the incalculable toll in human suffering.
Likewise, casino gaming is an industry built on addiction, with some studies showing over half the profits coming from the five percent of customers who qualify as pathological gamblers, while slot machines, which account for over 90 percent of industry revenues, are scientifically designed to create compulsion. Problem gamblers aren't just an unfortunate side effect of the gaming industry; they're its best customers!
And yet, that's Meinert's solution for funding K-12 education and children's healthcare: a libertarian, adult entertainment dystopia that turns all our communities into Atlantic Fucking City. But Washingtonians already have plenty of opportunity to engage in casino gambling; shouldn't we also have he opportunity to avoid it?
Fortunately, Washington voters have better sense, repeatedly rejecting at the polls both gambling expansion and state store privatization measures, most recently, Tim Eyman's loathsome 2004 slot machine initiative in a nearly a two to one landslide, and this year's decisive defeat of privatization in all but three out of 39 counties.
Which in the end is why I'm more than happy to give Meinert's self-serving proposals the "adult conversation" he says he craves. In fact, I'd even support putting his proposal before voters... as long as voters are also given a reasonable alternative.
So yeah, let the Legislature put a referendum on the fall ballot restoring $1.5 billion in cuts to education and healthcare, but let's also give voters a choice between two options for paying for it: A) Meinert's easy-money Atlanticitification of Washington state; or B) repealing $1.5 billion in nonproductive special interest tax breaks.
Washington is a wealthy state, fully capable of supporting the public services and investments our citizens demand and need, without resorting to lazy, half-baked, get-rich-quick schemes that shift the costs of funding government onto the backs of addicts, while ignoring all the associated costs. And given an adult conversation about budget alternatives, I'm confident voters will make the mature choice.