Edward McNelis (April 8) and others are frustrated that the Legislature ignored the latest plan to subsidize horse racing with gambling machines. His thinking concerns me for eight reasons:
1) Should we attack legislators for following the law? When the Idaho Racing Commission director defended historical horse racing machines by saying, “They look like slot machines because they are supposed to look like slot machines,” he ended any doubt that they violate Idaho’s constitutional ban on imitations of slot machines.
2) What makes Idaho horse racing an “industry?” Idaho has an $8 billion agricultural industry employing tens of thousands. But, without slot machines, live horse racing in Idaho in recent years has been a small business generating little more than $1 million per year to support a few hundred low-wage, seasonal jobs. After slots arrived to “save” dog racing in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the money-losing races were shut down. The slots remain.
3) Why should legislators listen? They felt “duped” in 2014 when racing interests claimed their slot machine imitations would be like simulcasting. It’s no surprise that legislators aren’t warm to other proposals to sidestep Idaho’s constitution.
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4) How does “free enterprise” fit with demands for government intervention? Horse racing is not profitable. Why is that a legislative issue? In fact, slot machines undermine each point Mr. McNelis values about free enterprise.
5) Slots don’t “create jobs.” Slot casinos employ people, but roughly one job is lost in a local economy for each job “created” by slot dollars. A South Dakota study concluded that throwing out their slot machines would result in several hundred more jobs there.
6) Slots don’t “invest.” Just the opposite, they pull money out of local economies. Ask Donald Trump. “Local business will suffer because they’ll lose customer dollars to the casinos,” he told the Miami Herald. “Money that they would normally spend on buying a refrigerator or a new car.”
7) Slots don’t “improve opportunity for citizens.” Not when as much as two-thirds of slot revenues come from addicts, the 2.2 percent of our neighbors whose lives slots devastate: Picture 4,200 Boise citizens crushed by crime, bankruptcy, homelessness, broken families and suicide. Gambling-funded economic studies ignore social costs: $3 for every $1 in benefits, according to Baylor economist Earl Grinols.
8) Slots don’t “grow the economy.” They don’t attract outside money; they just cannibalize the existing economy. An Iowa study found that midsize cities that legalized a casino stopped growing economically. It concluded that a casino, “far from contributing to economic development, creates a measurable drain on the economy of the city.”
Horse racing proponents are right to be upset that the unconstitutional slot machines of Idaho’s tribes and lottery continue to be allowed to weaken our economy and destroy our neighbors. The solution is to unplug those slots, not sneak in more.
Jonathan Krutz is a Boise State faculty member. He is secretary of Stop Predatory Gambling Idaho and a board member of StopPredatoryGambling.org.