Legislators are under tremendous pressure to give casinos more flexibility. Because of the one-two punch of a severe recession and competition from new casinos in adjacent states, gambling revenues – and the state taxes they provide – are down considerably. Letting casinos relocate to sites near high-traffic highways could return some of those revenues.
And it’s not as if ending the riverboat-casinos-only rule will add or subtract anything in the ongoing debate about the appropriateness of state-approved gambling.
Making people go to boats to gamble was a way for craven legislators to pose as morally thoughtful public officials and approve of gambling but only in a limited and responsible way. “Yes, we are encouraging you to throw your hard-earned money away, but we’re making you work for it. See there, we’re not so reprehensible!” Restaurant calories don’t count, having an affair doesn’t matter if it’s more than 50 miles from home, and gambling isn’t dangerous as long as it’s done over water instead of land.
Ending the land ban would force legislators to stop their game of “let’s pretend” and focus on the real issue.
Whatever they intended, the state’s lawmakers have allowed Indiana to become far too dependent on the revenue that comes from gambling taxes. When the revenue stream is threatened, as it is today, they are left with an uncomfortable choice: Find another source for the money or get further involved in the deplorable act of creating gamblers. (A third option, of course, would be to spend less money, but we’re not silly enough to even suggest that.)
By all means, let’s give the casinos more maneuvering room. If it keeps some Hoosiers here throwing their money away instead of going to Ohio or Illinois to throw it away, the state will have gained without contributing any more to the pot of evil. But let’s start thinking of ways to wean the state of its dependence on gambling.
It is one thing for the state to profit from our vices, as it does with tobacco and alcohol. It is morally repugnant for the state to actually encourage our vices.