Vice Squad
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
A Few More Gambling Related Items

Man, this story is a sad one. A guy from Ohio had lost everything to gambling. Displaying just a slight error in judgment, the man drove to New York to try and recoup $200,000 in losses from a company that offered him advice on sports betting. Needless to say, the caper didn't quite go as planned, and now our friend from the Buckeye state is sitting in jail on charges of kidnapping, robbery and attempted grand larceny. When the man's fiance contacted him in New York, he told her not to hire a lawyer, that he would rather rot.

I meant to comment on this story a couple of days ago from Gambling Magazine. Now, as a proud product of the Iowa Public School System (K through J.D.) and one-time patron of the dog track in my hometown of Council Bluffs, Iowa, I was interested to see the article "Gambling, Education Money Top Concerns At Forum" in Gambling Magazine, which summarized citizens' top concerns at a recent town meeting in Webster County, Iowa. It's no coincidence that a gambling magazine would cover a story about whether or not it's a good idea to bring a casino into town, followed by a story explaining how cash-strapped the state education system is.

There are myriad stories out there about communities using legalized gambling as a way to make up for state revenue shortfalls. Pennsylvania, Minnesota (registration required), and California are among the states currently looking to gambling as a way to help balance state budgets.

Although Iowa became the first state to legalize riverboat gambling in 1991, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission has put a moratorium on issuing new casino licenses. The reason seems to be that the Commission is concerned that Iowa has reached a "saturation" point, and that more casinos would not result in increased revenues. The Commission recently requested a report on the economic feasibility of "one casino in every county." The report summarizes how much revenue the state could expect to see from new casinos, but does not really undertake a complete cost-benefit analysis. The report does not discuss things such as whether or not the state would have to increase funding for treatment of gambling addicts, or if these small communities could handle the influx of tourism that would be associated with the casinos.

At the Webster County town meeting, Terry Dillon, chairman of the anti-casino group Don't Gamble With Our Future Webster County (or DGWOFWC for short), asked lawmakers for a university study of the impact of gambling on his community. One of the state representatives at the meeting responded, "I don't think the state can afford a university study."

Is it too much to ask of our elected representatives that they actually engage in a well-informed analysis of the impact of a policy before making a decision about it? I don't know if more casinos in Iowa is a good or a bad thing, but neither do state legislators at this point. I don't think Mr. Dillon's request is that out of line.

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