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Doing nothing is exactly the right move for gambling

Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 12:01 am

Let's gradually get used to getting less revenue from casino taxes.

The General Assembly seems poised to make one of its best decisions ever on organized gambling by simply doing nothing.

Indiana has “lived high on the hog” from casino money for the past two decades, says House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, but now should stand on principle and let go. “I’m not prepared to engage in a massive expansion of gambling just to keep revenue up. I don’t want to see us get in any deeper.”

For 2010, taxes from Indiana’s 13 casinos amounted to almost $680 million, or 5.5 percent of the state budget. But because of the weak economy and competition from casinos in adjacent states, the figure dropped to $632 million last year. Budget planners are anticipating a drop of 20 percent in the next few years.

Casino advocates have sought measures that would grant $100 million in tax reductions, allow live table games at the two horse-track casinos and permit casinos to move from water to land. The House has approved a bill that would give advocates less than a fifth of what they want, and that is the most they will likely get. If they don’t even get that, so much the better.

Yes, the casinos add to the state’s economy – about 15,000 people are employed in the gambling industry here. But every business contributes to the economy, and most of them don’t get subsidized with tax breaks. And most of them don’t depend on exploiting human weakness to make their money.

That’s the biggest reason for the state to back off from organized gambling – it is a sordid business to not just profit from taxpayers’ bad habits but to actually encourage them. It doesn’t exactly give lawmakers any moral high ground to preach to us about careless moral choices.

But it’s also a good practice in general to let businesses compete in the free market and thrive or fail based on what they offer and what their customers want. “We all have to be able to withstand competition in our businesses and to find better ways to treat our customers and attract more business,” says Rep. Bill Davis, R-Portland. “I don’t think this industry is that much different.”

Exactly so. Encouraging economic activity with things such as tax breaks should be reserved for businesses that actively contribute to the state’s quality of life. Businesses that thrive on stealing Hoosiers’ money with sucker bets don’t exactly fit the definition.

Doing nothing and letting gambling tax revenue decline gradually is exactly the right move. We will have plenty of time to find the right mix of replacement revenues and reduced spending to get us through the rough spots.