Posted by: bkivey | 30 June 2010

Betting Against Business

A couple of weeks ago the Oregonian published an editorial against a private casino proposal for the Portland metro area on the grounds that it would take money away from the state in the form of reduced video game receipts. Because of the way Oregon law works, casinos built on non-reservation land must be approved by the voters through a ballot initiative. It is a curious regulatory climate indeed that allows the state to license gambling in bars but forces private business wishing to do something similar through high hoops. It is even more curious that an editorial board that has been forced to admit in recent months that government is funded by private enterprise would try to persuade people to vote against a business that the paper admits would create thousands of jobs as well as generate $125 million in annual tax revenues.

The primary argument against the casino is made in a study commissioned by a consortium of Native American tribes. In a classic case of strange bedfellows, the First Nations (I’m going to use the Canadian appellation here, because I think it’s more descriptive and less awkward), the purveyors of all the casinos in the state, have sided with the anti-gambling faction to try and block the casino in order to protect their turf. Using an admittedly novel premise, the tribes don’t cite a decline in their revenues, but instead argue that the state will lose money. The study claims that a private casino would have to generate more than twice the revenue of the purported loss in video games to equal the state’s current take. This is probably true if one looks only at the gaming activity and ignores payroll taxes, not to mention the goods and services that a casino would require, which would likely generate additional jobs.

The editorial points out that none of the nine tribal casinos in the state are located in a major population center and so are not threats to draw gamblers away from state-owned video games. Apparently the author couldn’t be bothered to look across the Columbia River and see what impact the urban casinos in Washington have had on video gambling. They do note that there is a proposed tribal casino just up the road in Washington, something the Oregon First Nation study fails to account for.

I have no brief for gambling; it doesn’t interest me, and I certainly don’t think the state should be involved in ‘sin’ industries, but I have no problem with folks spending their money however they want. People are going to gamble, and if they are, I’d rather they keep their money and the jobs they create in Oregon. I do think that it’s a strange mindset indeed that would argue against the private business creation of  jobs and tax revenue in favor of state-controlled gambling.

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