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One way for state to back off a little from gambling

Thursday, January 31, 2013 - 12:01 am

Industry subsidized for 20 years should be able to stand on its own.

Three cheers for the administration of Gov. Mike Pence, which is calling for an end to the subsidization of horse racing that has pumped more than $400 million into the industry since 1993. “There is a better use of the money,” says spokeswoman Christy Denault. Here, here.

Shouldn’t an industry that’s been subsidized for 20 years be able to make it on its own by this time? And if it can’t, maybe it’s time to say goodbye – it’s called the competition of free enterprise.

As Matthew Tully of The Indianapolis Star points out, “government money isn’t in endless supply. And it’s worth pondering what that level of assistance could have accomplished if aimed at high-tech companies, or innovative small businesses, or the arts, or the life sciences industry.” Instead, the state is subsidizing an enterprise that exists so people can bet on the races – it is exploiting its citizens’ character flaws.

This won’t be an easy task. When both Gov. Mitch Daniels and former House Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Espich tried merely to reduce the subsidy in 2011, a fierce lobbying effort beat down the proposals. Trying to eliminate the subsidy altogether will create an even bigger fight. Gambling has become the state’s third-largest source of revenue, so the people who provide it make some mighty powerful friends.

But it’s an important fight worth waging, and not just because of the big bucks involved. There is a moral component here that can’t be ignored.

To consider how depraved the state’s actions really are, just imagine if the other sins providing revenue for the state – such as cigarettes and booze – were actually encouraged by the state. Well, it is just as unseemly to subsidize something that creates problems for thousands of compulsive gamblers in the state each year.

The state should create a climate in which businesses can thrive, then stand back and let them compete. An argument can be made that, here and there, it is worth it to jump in and “help” the marketplace along. But this is the wrong industry for the state to jump in for.

Because of increased competition from the states surrounding Indiana, revenue from our casinos is dropping, and the state is already under tremendous pressure to help them out. Tax breaks are possible, as is the ability for current riverboats to move to land-based sites.

Surely, in this one area, the state can step back from gambling just a little so it become less dependent on gambling revenue and perhaps even find those “better uses” for the money.