Monday, January 12, 2009

The millionaires' bailout

LEXINGTON, KY—A state anti-casino group announced its plans today to oppose House Bill 158, which would place computerized slot machines at the state's horse tracks. The proposed law is both good news and bad news, according to Martin Cothran. "The bad news is, if it works, it would give money to wealthy people by taking it from not-so-wealthy people," said Cothran. "The good news is it won't work."

"This bill is an economic bailout for millionaires," said Cothran. "But even so, with the gambling industry hit hard by the economic downturn, there is no way it can raise the amount of money its supporters claim it will—either for millionaires or for state government."

Cothran, the new spokesman for Say No To Casinos, said his group will highlight several things about the bill:

  • That it is a bailout for millionaires because it uses a form of gambling that attracts low-end gamblers and provides subsidies for high-end horse farmers
  • That it can't produce the revenue it promises because of a down economy that has affected the gambling industry worse than many other industries
  • This it is a retreat from the promise by gambling proponents to "Let the people decide," since, unlike previous attempts to expand gambling, it will only be voted on by lawmakers

"The kind of computerized slot machines the bill would place at horse tracks in House Bill 158 are the worst kind of gambling mechanisms," said Cothran, "not only because they are the most addictive, but because these machines draw their audience from among people lower on the economic ladder than those who would normally attend horse races. Video lottery terminals will appeal to the same people as the lottery: those who can least afford it."

The bill sponsor has said the bulk of the money is to be used in part to bail out the horse industry. "Basically this would result in a transfer of wealth from those in lower income brackets to those in higher income brackets,” said Cothran in response. “We certainly support the horse industry, but we're having trouble figuring out why people who drop millions of dollars at horse auctions without batting an eyelash need a bailout."

The gambling industry itself has fallen on hard times and many casinos have even had to fold. "The gambling industry has been hit harder than most businesses. To say that gambling is somehow going to yield up hundreds of millions of dollars in this economy is just not realistic."

Cothran added that many Kentuckians will be disappointed when they realize that all of the political rhetoric during last year's campaign for casinos about "letting the people decide" on the measure was empty. "With the ‘Millionaire's Bailout,’ the people will be taking a back seat to high-priced lobbyists."

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