Funding for North Carolina schools and human services in the next few years might not only depend on how many people the state can convince to waste their money on a lottery ticket, but also how many folks can be persuaded to throw their money away on video poker machines.
Last week we learned that Governor Beverly Perdue is seriously considering a proposal to legalize video poker to raise revenue to help address the state’s $3.7 billion shortfall. That recommendation may come in Perdue’s State of the State speech Monday night and in the budget she will submit to lawmakers shortly after her address.
Legislators have three choices when it comes to video poker. They could adjust the ban passed last session to take into account recent legal challenges. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said Tuesday that he thinks most lawmakers still support the ban.
They could legalize video poker and let the industry run wild and put video sweepstakes terminals on every corner and not worry about the effects on poor neighborhoods and struggling families. There’s not too much support for that notion, though some libertarian leaning lawmakers might find it appealing.
Or they could make video poker part of the state lottery and let lottery officials oversee it. That unfortunately seems to be the way Perdue is leaning. The Raleigh News & Observer reported this week that lottery officials asked potential vendors for information about their capabilities for implementation of a “Video Lottery Terminal Central Management system.”
Letting the state run video poker and the lottery would be the worst of the three choices. Funding for education and early childhood programs already depend on how well the state can convince people to buy lottery tickets.
Data about lottery sales show people in poor counties are playing the lottery the most. That means the state is relying on poor families to help fund programs instead of raising revenue fairly with taxes that everyone pays based on how much they make.
Adding video poker to the mix would only compound the problem and take an even greater toll on people who can least afford to spend their money on state run gambling schemes.
Progressive lawmakers like Senator Josh Stein, who sponsored last session’s video poker ban, say that video poker is actually worse than the lottery.
That may or may not be true but there’s little doubt that the video poker industry has a more checkered past. Bob Hall with Democracy North Carolina has tracked the large political contributions of the industry for years and has pointed out that many of the operators now fighting to keep video poker legal played a role in the scandals that sent public officials to prison, including former House Speaker Jim Black.
Hall says corruption “oozes through the industry” and has for a while. He’s right. That’s why opening up every corner of North Carolina to video poker barons would be a disaster.
Letting the state run or oversee the industry would be even worse, putting the state on the level of the shady operators and relying on people to gamble their money away to fund the operations of state government. That would be a disgrace.
Let’s hope Perdue comes to her senses and keeps the state out of the gutter by finding more honest ways to raise revenue to pay for education and vital state services. The state-run lottery is bad enough. There’s no need to make things worse.