HB 28 asks: Why is the Idaho State Lottery operating 1,200-bet/hour electronic gambling machines in bars across the state when the Idaho Constitution says simulations of slot machines are illegal?
The lottery claims that rapid-bet TouchTabs machines are just a form of paper pull-tabs; like claiming cocaine is just a form of caffeine.
It’s worse, actually. The lottery got the machines approved by saying the only “critical” difference was that their electronic gambling machines were — not “orders of magnitude faster,” but — “more secure.” Not a word about gambling speed entered the public debate.
This might sound familiar. In 2013 the horse tracks got legislators to approve “just-like-simulcasting” rapid-bet electronic gambling devices. Two years later, after seeing the machines in action, the Legislature threw them out.
Rapid-bet electronic gambling devices — slot machines — are the holy grail of gambling moneymaking because of their addictive speed. Even the American Gaming Association admits that rapid-bet machines account for 70 percent of the money kept by today’s casinos. That’s why everyone wants them.
That’s also why they aren’t legal in Idaho. Article III Section 20 of our Constitution reads, “No activities permitted by subsection (1) [which allows the lottery and pari-mutuel betting] shall employ any form of casino gambling including … slot machines, or employ any electronic or electromechanical imitation or simulation of any form of casino gambling.”
Is there a better definition of the simulation of a slot machine than 1,200-bets/hour? You can say a machine is a horse race or a pull-tab, but at 1,200-bets/hour you have to also admit it’s a slot machine simulation. MIT Researcher Natasha Schull’s book “Addiction by Design,” details that betting speed is what slot machines do — and why people get hooked.
The report “Why Casinos Matter” reviews 11 studies that conclude addicts provide significant amounts — one-third to one-half — of casino revenues, and up to two-thirds of rapid-bet gambling machine revenues. Who are the addicts? Check out the Atlantic Monthly’s December article, “How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts” for a devastating look.
We can thank the tribes for starting us down this slippery slope. Their 2002 petition defined in law that “a tribal video gaming machine … is not a slot machine or an … imitation or simulation,” which is neither accurate nor constitutional. As long as that law is allowed to trump our Constitution, expect more rapid-bet electronic gambling devices to be labeled anything but the slot machine simulations they clearly are.
One more thing. Have you noticed bubblegum coin-pusher gambling machines popping up around the state? They are not legal. But local police have a hard time prioritizing enforcement when the state, itself, is running illegal slot machine imitations.
That’s what happens when a state ignores its own Constitution.
Jonathan Krutz, MBA, teaches in the Boise State University marketing department and serves as president of Stop Predatory Gambling Idaho. Learn more at StopPredatoryGambling.com.