It used to be so easy when issues were black and white. Alcohol is a wonderful example. If lawmakers decide alcohol is a bad thing, we can have Prohibition. This was tried in North America and failed. It continues to be successfully applied in Islamic countries where the public consumption of all alcoholic beverages is largely banned. But as we have moved through the 20th Century in the developed world, too many people see shades of gray. Now there are two sides to every issue and this drives the way our media report the news. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Respect is the new game in town.
In most US states, lawmakers have been struggling with budget deficits for years. These problems are worse now the recession has arrived. The tax-take from conventional businesses and earned income has dropped with businesses failing and unemployment growing. As property values fall and rates of foreclosure increase, property taxes have also dropped. Many states reacted by taking plans to license slots off the back burner. They want to encourage you to spend what is left of your money on gambling. A tax on the gross revenue of the license holders then keeps the state solvent. But the story in some states gets dark and murky as political influence over the licensing process comes into play.
It should be easy to say which individuals or corporations are fit and proper people to run licensed gambling in the US. But, when it comes to the amount of money to set up sites for slot machines and then the potential for long-term profit, you are suddenly reduced to a select group of people who have the capital and the influence to get the licenses. If only this process worked well! As an example of the problems, let’s go to Maryland where an “independent” commission awarded the first of five licenses to the operators of Ocean Downs, a racing track near Ocean City. The license allows the installation of 800 slot machines on the site. Except the operators have now made some exciting discoveries. It seems there is a small mountain of asbestos to be removed from the site as part of the rebuilding and renovation exercise. Better still, it seems the grandstand is likely to collapse soon. There is major corrosion in the steel holding it up. Put another way, the racing track should have been closed down years ago as too dangerous for the public to use. The link between asbestos and malignant lung cancer is well-known. Gamblers at the race track have been breathing in the fibres for years. If the grandstand had collapsed, hundreds could have been injured. Yet this site was approved for 800 slots.
Corruption comes in many forms. Some is serious, other less so. But the reality is that gambling in general and slots in particular should be run by people who are obviously reliable. No matter how much states may need the additional money from taxing gambling, people’s lives should not be put at risk. That’s both in the physical sense of safety and in the economic sense – there are hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people who destroy their own lives through a gambling addiction. States should protect all their citizens from harm.
By Elizabeth Tudor
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