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EDITORIAL

The immorality of depending on the wrong thing

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 12:01 am

It sometimes does matter where the money comes from.

Money is, as they say, fungible – that is, individual units are interchangeable; one dollar bill is exactly the same as any other dollar bill in form and function. And any pot of money can be used for either good or bad, no matter where it came from.

But sometime the origin does matter. Two stories appearing on the same day make the point. One, in The Indianapolis Star, notes that, despite the plummeting tax revenues from Indiana’s casino industry, key state officials “remain unwilling to gamble on any expansion of the state’s gaming options.” The other, from the Indianapolis Business Journal, reports that the resurgence of Indiana University’s men’s basketball team the last two seasons “has driven an increase in donations, boosted royalties for IU-licensed merchandise and led to the highest number of student season-ticket basketball packages sold in three decades.”

Depending on tax revenues from gambling is corrupting because it compels the state not just to prey on its residents with a character flaw but to actually encourage that flaw. The more problem gamblers there, the higher the take will be for the state. Once the state becomes dependent on that revenue, it faces a moral dilemma when competition from other states starts driving down revenues: make the casinos here more competitive by giving tax breaks and easing regulations, or find other sources for the missing revenue.

Counting on a good sports program to boost your school’s image and enhance the bottom line is corrupting in a slightly less sinister way. In theory, it should be possible to put great emphasis on athletics without decreasing the emphasis on academics. In practice, it doesn’t often work out that way. Sports too often become the tail that wags the education dog.

The revenue the state has collected from casinos has dropped about $46 million over the past three years. The decline the Hoosier gambling industry has been in because out-of-state competition is only going to get worse with the new $400 million facility set to open in downtown Cincinnati. Indiana lawmakers deserve a lot of credit for not letting the industry’s stress panic them. They seem inclined to give casinos enough of a break to hold their own, but are determined not to do anything that would expand gambling.

It would be wishful thinking of the highest order to call for IU to take a similarly realistic look at its dependence on basketball-driven revenue. When a product becomes “new and improved,” its salesman are naturally going to redouble their efforts.