Rolling Dice for Taxes

THE gamblers are on a losing streak, at least for the moment.

In Missouri, voters defeated a constitutional amendment that would have permitted slot machines on riverboats.

In Massachusetts, a unanimous vote of the Government Regulations Committee urged the House Ways and Means Committee to reject Gov. William Weld's gambling proposals, incorporated in his 1995 budget, calling for three floating casinos and 6,000 electronic slot machines at four horse and dog tracks.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Robert Casey has promised to veto any casino bill that passes while he is in office.

Still, dozens of gambling investors with floating casinos in mind are reportedly buying waterfront sites in Pennsylvania. In Massachusetts, the Wampanoag Indians are pursuing plans for a $150 million casino. With riverboat gambling already legalized in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri, the consensus among the gaming entrepreneurs is, ``It's only a matter of time.''

Supporters promise thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue, sometimes with a pious linkage to funds for public education. Yet in the first decade of casino gambling in Atlantic City, new jobs were offset by the fact that 97 of the 243 restaurants then in the city went out of business during that period.

Even in Governor Weld's rosy projection, his proposed slot machines would generate only $85 million in taxes, while $460 million would go to the racetrack owners.

Steven Gold, a gambling analyst at the Rockefeller Institute, states flatly: ``The idea that casinos are the answer for a state or city with serious economic problems is a mirage.''

The historical connection of gambling with organized crime is irrefutable. But the final consideration should be the effect of gambling on the gamblers. Given the predictable proportion of losers to winners, legalized gambling is a sure bet to place further stress on families. Even worse than material loss is the risk of corrosion of character and personality. Those who temporarily win are misled by their euphoria. Those who lose are soured - but no less obsessed.

Gambling, like any addiction, moves in the direction of upping the dose, a tendency automatically encouraged by increasing the temptations. Does a nation horrified by drug addiction really want to spread floating casinos from sea to shining sea?

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