Gambling's sure bet is that people lose
Canterbury Park will not be adding slot machines to its gaming choices this round, it seems. But I am sure the "racino" proposal will be back up for discussion the next time the state needs to find funds for a somewhat popular project that nobody wants to pay for.
Meanwhile, the news of an agreement between the tracks at Canterbury and Running Aces and the tribal casinos to moderately increase gaming at both sets of facilities stands as a beautiful example of compromise between organizations with competing interests.
No wonder the Legislature passed the authorization so quickly. Words like compromise and bipartisanship resonate with many independent voters.
Unfortunately, increased gaming does not benefit society at large.
Gambling is never simply entertainment. It is a drug. For those who can afford to gamble, a pull on the slot machine or the hit on the blackjack table is arguably a harmless upper, something akin to going to a sporting event.
I, as a fan, agree to spend some money to participate in an event with an uncertain outcome. I can afford the excitement.
But for lower-income individuals, whose gaming wastes an unhealthy amount of their incomes, gambling is an opiate. The dream of wealth drives the wager. Anyone can win, right? Never mind the odds against it. I just need to get lucky once, right? This is not entertainment.
Of course, gambling is a choice. And according to a 2008 study in "The Journal of Risk and Uncertainty," households that earn less than $13,000 choose to spend 9 percent of their income on lottery tickets, on average. That is $1,170.
The expected loss on EZ Bucks, a Minnesota State Lottery scratch-off, is slightly more than 45 cents for each $1 ticket purchased. In other words, if an average low-income household spent their entire lottery "budget" on EZ Bucks tickets, they would lose, on average, $528.84, slightly more than 4 percent of their income.
The State Lottery's description of EZ Bucks becomes a bit of a joke: "It's a piece of cake. A breeze. You'll have it made in the shade with this $1 scratch ticket. And you could win up to $1,000 instantly."
Wasting money has never been so easy.
Low-income individuals throwing away money on gambling is a bad thing. The question becomes: Who is to blame?
Many would say that those who cannot afford to gamble but still choose do so are at fault. Nobody compels them to make a wager. They are acting within their freedom as independent citizens to spend their capital as they see fit.
Lotteries and casinos provide a service. The free market allows for this exchange of capital and services between consenting parties. Let the system stand.
Furthermore, the state gets a cut of the action. Everybody leaves happy, getting what they wanted. Gambling is a right.
But perhaps we should look at the consequences of gambling. Gambling hurts those who are economically most vulnerable.
If lotteries and casinos did not exist, the entertainment budgets of the upper and middle classes would be spent elsewhere, and a destructive waste of low-income salaries would disappear. The state could make up the revenue somewhere else. And an ethical wrong would be made right.
State-sanctioned gambling is nothing more than a thinly veiled poverty tax. Even if the "means" of gambling is ethically acceptable, the "ends" are disastrous for too many. A stadium bill that increases the potential for gambling is immoral.
If anything, we Minnesotans should be working to reduce the prevalence of lotteries and casinos.