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Best of I. Nelson Rose
Self-Delusions from the Anti's13 June 2004
"The expansion crapped out, went bust and turned up a loser"
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics."
Don't believe everything you read in the papers.
In fact, to political activists, there is an even greater danger: Don't believe your own press releases.
The leaders of the anti-gambling movement, the "anti's" as they are commonly called, have declared that victory is in sight. The story was first reported in The Capital Times & Wisconsin State Journal, which naturally put a local twist on it.
"The Ho-Chunk Nation might have a hard time getting a casino approved in Madison if national trends from 2003 hold true. According to information released this week by the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, supporters of gambling were big losers last year as 42 out of 45 proposals lost in the courts, the ballot box and state capitals."
According to the spokesman for the group opposing the plan for Dane County, "No Dane Casino," David Relles, "The tide is turning."
That would be good news for the anti's. Only one problem - it isn't true.
Tom Grey, head of the leading anti's, the Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, used these statistics:
Quite a record. If you ignore reality, that is.
First, the obvious. The anti's are gloating about defeating 42 of 45 pro-gambling proposals. But, how did the proposals to limit or eliminate gambling do?
There weren't any. At least none that I could find.
When 48 out of 50 states and every territory and possession of the country already has some form of legal gambling, it is not surprising that there is not much room to expand.
The statistics also are biased. The anti's are including every proposal made in every state legislature and any court case that they happened to like. Anyone can file a lawsuit, and any member of a state legislature can introduce a bill. But in many states, more than 90% of bills fail every year.
If the only statistic that counted is what percentage of proposed legislation actually became law, then every movement failed, even those that have gained significant victories in recent years, such as improving education and consumer safety.
I don't know of any political observer who regards as significant the sheer number of bills or court cases.
What counts is votes.
A 50% success rate for gambling referenda is extraordinary.
The referendum that failed in Colorado was not to bring casinos to the state; it already has them in three mountain towns and on Indian reservations. The ballot proposal was an ill-conceived and poorly executed attempt to enrich a private operator by allowing it to operate more slot machines by calling them lottery devices. The voters, and press, saw through this thinly disguised attempt.
More significant was the defeat in Maine. This was an initiative to let the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes have a casino. It did not really have much chance, because it was not supported by either political party.
Meanwhile, the same voters approved racinos. As everyone who reads this site knows, this is part of a significant movement nationwide. One of the measures of its strength is its open support by major, successful political candidates. Two examples:
In Maryland, Gov. Parris N. Glendening had stood in the way of the expansion of gambling for years. It was a given that as long as Glendening was governor, the racetracks could not even get telephone wagering, let alone slot machines.
In the November 2002 election, the Democratic candidate, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, came out against gambling. Most people think of anti's as religious conservatives, like Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson. But there is a smaller faction composed of liberals, such as Townsend and Ralph Nader. They oppose gambling not on religious, but rather on paternalistic grounds, thinking poor people should not be spending their money this way.
But Townsend was trounced by Rep. Robert Erlich Jr.(R.), who came out strongly in favor of putting hundreds, or even thousands, of VLTs at the state's three existing, and one planned, racetracks. He said Maryland needs racinos to compete with nearby Delaware's and to lessen the budget deficit.
In Pennsylvania both gubernatorial candidates were in favor of racinos. The winner, Ed Rendell (D.), immediately announced that his top priority was to lower property taxes by allowing slot machines at the state's four existing racetracks, and another four which have not even been built.
The other successful election was for a riverboat casino at Lake Patoka, Indiana. The anti's can write this off. But 15 years ago, it would have been considered unthinkable for the Legislature to even allow such a vote, let alone contemplate local citizens approving it. The anti's have let slip a sign of weakness: Casino gambling has become so commonplace that a vote to allow a riverboat is no longer newsworthy.
The anti's major problem is that statistics don't work when you have a movement to bring in or expand something as significant as legal gambling. In New York, for example, there probably have been a hundred proposals over the last few decades to legalize casino-style gambling. Even before the Islamic extremist attacks of 9/11, the Legislature and governors had approved compacts for slotless casinos with local tribes. But with the state in desperate need of revenue, a bill for racinos and true casinos was signed into law. Maybe that's only one bill out of 100 (although it has also, so far, withstood a couple of court challenges).
The anti's can brag about their 99% success rate in New York. But pro-gaming advocates know their 1% victory is what really counts.
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