California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger closed a deal with five Indian tribes on Monday that would expand their gambling businesses. The tribes would be allowed an unlimited number of slot machines, and the state would pocket $1 billion upfront to help plug its $14 billion deficit.
It looks as if Mr. Schwarzenegger didn't get the memo, though. In states across the country, the popular trend is against expanding legalized gambling. Of 46 measures pushed by gaming proponents last year, only three were approved, according to the grass-roots organizing group, the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.
In 2003, citizens, legislators, and the courts blocked 20 proposals for slot machines at race tracks, six new casinos and expansion of six current ones, five state lotteries, and "convenience gambling" (lottery machines in stores) in six states.
Could it be that since legalized gambling took off nearly two decades ago, Americans are recognizing the social, economic, and human costs of state reliance on addictive behavior?
Part of the enough-is-enough dynamic is bound to be market related. In Delaware, for instance, racetrack owners oppose a bill to open a new slots casino on the Wilmington waterfront because of oversaturation.
Next door in Pennsylvania, however, State Senate majority leader David Brightbill is holding the ground against slot machines for moral reasons.
Legalized gambling racks up tremendous costs, producing compulsive gamblers, bankruptcies, and crime. It is the fastest growing addiction among young people. And states, like the gamblers themselves, have become addicted to revenue whose foundation is the exploitation of mainly lower-income people counting on luck to get ahead.
California's misguided governor hopes that more of the state's 61 gaming tribes will join this week's agreement. But some of the tribes are holding out for a November ballot measure that would also allow unlimited slot machines but with less money going to the state and with fewer restrictions. So far, polls show a majority of voters supporting this and a related pro-slots ballot initiative.
Last year was a tough fiscal year for many states, yet they resisted the temptation to expand gaming. Schwarzenegger, known as a man of steel, should be strong enough to do the same.