On casinos. Or, if you can’t spot the sucker in the room, it’s you

Jim Kunstler’s latest post takes up the issue of casinos:

I was out in Iowa last week, in the vicinity of Waterloo, where the John Deere corporation has laid off hundreds of workers in recent years. The town’s solution to this problem was to invite a casino to town, and it now stands out above the cornfields like a grinning Moloch, mocking the aspirations of those who remain in the area — and reinforcing the other foolish and destructive activity going on there, which is the corn-to-ethanol racket aimed at propping up American car dependency.

Of course the idea that the backwaters of Iowa might compete with Las Vegas or even the ghastly Atlantic City for gambling tourism is laughable, so who exactly did the local officials imagine would be patronizing the blackjack tables of Waterloo at eleven o’clock in the morning?

Having studied gambling back in Canberra, I have a piqued interest in state-sponsored (i.e. State-profiting) gambling. Not to mention living in Sydney, with its endless panoply of poker machines, and ever-expanding servicemen’s clubs.

Living out here, I also have a new interest: the impending conversion of the long-abandoned Bethlehem Steel site into a casino. Here are a couple of relevant pieces of media:

Audit: Bethlehem outspent income

A draft of Bethlehem’s 2006 audit shows that the city spent $1.6 million more than it brought in last year, reigniting a debate over how the city pays its bills and setting the stage for the budget talks — and possible tax hikes — next month.

Councilman Joseph Leeson Jr. said the audit shows a budget deficit, which he believes violates state and city law.

Mayor John Callahan’s administration describes it as a cash-flow problem, something that will be rectified once the Sands BethWorks casino opens within two years and starts generating millions in fees and taxes for the city.

Bethlehem’s feeling flush as first income flows in from casino

Bethlehem just got its first big payday from the Sands BethWorks casino project: a $1.7 million sewer fee.

The news doesn’t surprise the city officials who had budgeted the money this year, but Mayor John Callahan called it a “milestone” for his struggling city.

Over the past couple of months, the city learned that the casino won’t be finished until 2009, which means the $8.7 million host fee, property tax and other levies the city will get will be delayed.

It doesn’t matter who suffers from problem gambling, or what manner of social gradient is attached. What matters is revenue for states and counties, in an era when Federal government (this includes Australia, most certainly) kicks back more and more responsibilities (Orange Alert! No Child Left Behind! Non-funded mandates are supposed to be unconstitutional!), but less and less of the revenue they collect.

Out here I pay 7 distinct taxes on my income, to all three levels of government. No one level seems to pay any heed at all to the overall burden of revenue raising – there just isn’t that sort of grown-up government co-operation.

So Sydney drowns in poker machines because of the tax revenue for the NSW government. Casinos spring up all over America because of fees and taxes local – and state – governments will collect. Social outcomes? Pshaw.

Back to the never-more-appropriately-named Clusterfuck Nation:

I don’t entertain fantasies that gambling can be eliminated from any society, but inviting it to operate in the mainstream under state sponsorship is just tragically stupid. There is a rightful place for gambling: on the margins of society – and the crippling ideas that go hand-in-hand with it belong on the margins, too, like the belief that it’s possible to get something for nothing. Real political leadership would take stand on this, even if it was unpopular.

Once again, and more and more often, we lose big time because we handed government over to politicians.

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