If enticement is inherent to gambling, then the lure of easy fixes to complex state problems is the curse of legislators. Such is the case with the latest proposal to amend the Kentucky Constitution to legalize casinos.
The question posed by House Bill 229 is straightforward: "Are you in favor of amending the Kentucky Constitution to allow the General Assembly to permit casino gaming if the proceeds are allocated to the public pension system for a twenty-year period?" The legislation guarantees 100 percent of the income to be dedicated to the state pension fund which is enticing to teachers and state workers unsure about their future and legislators averse to the heavy lifting necessary to restore Kentucky's fiscal health.
The bill's chief sponsor, Republican state Rep. Jerry Miller of Louisville, said “it’s much more palatable than a tax increase." State Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, pointed to the pension crisis as his rationale for co-sponsoring the bill to legalize casinos, saying because of an “unfunded liability in our pension system of over $40 billion and a $1 billion hole in this budget, the time is now to raise revenue without raising taxes.”
Somehow, we're made to believe that the pension crisis justifies a controversial casino bill. Never mind the negative secondary effects casinos bring to communities, or that casinos promise pie in the sky but deliver crumbs to the state's fooled into believing they're a good thing for society.
The idea that gambling is a valid revenue stream for rescuing state government is counterintuitive. When people find themselves in financial straits, who would seriously advise them to roll the dice at a casino to solve their fiscal problems? As a matter of principle, people don’t gamble themselves to wealth. So why should the government believe it can do so? Yet, 13 House members, mostly Republicans, are advising just that.
A half-dozen gambling bills have been filed in Frankfort. State Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, is proposing legislation to allow gambling on sporting events. Koenig wants to legalize gambling for fantasy sports leagues. Apparently, the lure of easy dollars coming into state coffers has confused what was once considered common sense: "If it's too good to be true, it probably is."
Our moral imagination has been warped by vice masquerading as legitimate economic activity. Casino's promise a quick fix to long-term problems. They’re being promoted as an economic messiah to come to save us, or at least our pension system.
It will take a three-fifths vote by both the House and Senate to put this on the November ballot. The votes may not be there this session, but it's troubling that the leaders of our state would propose such irresponsible legislation.
If one believes in income without work; reward without sacrifice; fiscal health without fiscal discipline and simplistic solutions to complex problems, then it makes sense for Kentucky to roll out the red carpet to casinos. If you believe otherwise, then casinos aren't the answer.
Richard Nelson is executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center.