Op-Ed: Expanding gambling not the answer to state budget woes

In response to the development of a new $800 million casino in Springfield, Mass., Connecticut’s Mohegan tribe has expressed interest in developing at least one new gaming facility in Connecticut to keep customers from leaving the state.

State legislative leaders have expressed interest in taking up the issue in the upcoming session.

Op-ed submit bugThe main enticement for expanding gaming in Connecticut is to keep the state’s share of casino revenues flowing as a way to address future projected budget deficits. State legislators are better off focusing their time this session on developing real, long-term solutions to balance the state budget rather than gambling on short-term state revenue windfalls.

The state’s share of casino revenues has steadily declined each year since reaching a high of $430 million in 2007. An expansion of casino gaming in Connecticut will only prolong the inevitable and will have a higher societal cost than it is worth.

According to the Brookings Institution, there is a sharp increase in most crimes after the introduction of a casino, which can cost the average adult in a casino county up to $75 per year.

According to the National Association of Realtors, casinos have negative effects on neighboring property values. A casino, unlike a sports stadium, does not encourage non-gaming businesses to open nearby because it is designed to be an all-absorbing environment that does not release its customers until they have spent all of their money.

According to the Institute for American Values, people who live close to a casino are two times more likely to become problem gamblers than people who live more than 10 miles away.

Rather than worrying about the impact of casino competition in nearby Massachusetts, state legislators should spend their time focusing on the more pressing issue of projected budget deficits that will not go away.

Each year, our state’s leaders rely upon unreliable revenue sources to balance the state budget, which includes the state’s share of casino revenues as well as one-time windfalls like 2013’s record-breaking estate tax revenue of $428 million.

Last week, the Mohegan tribe announced that it is weighing the possible economic benefits of selling recreational marijuana on its reservation land in response to a recent Justice Department memo.

If the state were to come to an agreement to allow the sale of recreational marijuana on tribal lands in exchange for a share of the revenue, it will eventually run into the same problem of declining revenues that is currently facing with the casinos. Just like with casinos, it would just be a matter of time before other states catch on to the idea and saturate the market.

The governor and state legislative leaders need to put together a sustainable plan for state government to live within its means, instead of just kicking the can down the road. Spending time exploring an expansion of casino gaming in the state is penny wise and pound foolish.

Our leaders need to stop gambling on the fiscal health of the state and come up with sustainable ways to balance the budget.

Will Hermann, of Suffield, is a recent graduate of Trinity College, and writes a weekly blog at fromwhereisitct.wordpress.com.

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