Cognitive Dissonance? NC Legislature Bans Internet Sweepstakes

WUNC’s Laura Leslie (a reporting treasure) has a great post (Mon.: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before) on tonight’s 47 to 1 NC Senate vote “to ban video gambling – again – in North Carolina”.

Republican Tom Apodaca didn’t mince words in urging his fellow senators to ban video gambling.

“This is something we really don’t need. I mean, this is just a scourge, and I’ll happily vote to ban this.”

It’s not the first time Apodaca’s said that. North Carolina has been trying for years to get rid of video gambling. Its critics say it’s addictive, it breeds crime and corruption, and it preys on low-income and minority populations. And yet, it’s more popular than ever among those who say it’s harmless entertainment.

Wilmington’s Democratic Sen. Julia Boseman was the lone dissenter, arguing that the industry, if properly regulated, could generate millions of dollars in tax revenues.

You might recall a similar argument made in selling NC’s “educational” lottery.

If the lottery is any indication of the trajectory Internet/video gambling would take, the only way to grow revenues is to expand the reach of the games. With the lottery, what started as sales of tickets for a NC-only game became sales of scratch-offs along with mega-lottery options.

Easily deployed, requiring no special infrastructure, regulating the games the Senate banned this evening would become exponentially more difficult as their numbers increased.

There are other downsides which NC has already experienced:

…critics warned that video poker had become a front for organized crime. The allegation turned out to be true. Operators were bribing local officials to look the other way, and pumping money into campaign coffers to make friends in Raleigh.  Federal investigators sent about half a dozen people to prison – sheriffs, industry figures, and eventually, former House Speaker Jim Black.

I was and remain firmly against NC’s “education” lottery. Like many state lotteries, the promise has far exceeded the benefits while the damage has been more widespread than supporters claimed.

Studies show that lottery per capita revenues tend to come from the poorest parts of the State. It appears folks having difficulty controlling their scratch-off ticket purchases – whose attraction is pernicious – aren’t getting assistance from the service setup to handle that contingency. And, as feared, some school districts have come to imprudently rely on lottery monies for core needs.

Given those problems it makes little sense, moral or otherwise, for the State to be in the gambling business.

So, while I welcome tonight’s ban on video gambling, I’ve got to wonder why the Senate doesn’t apply the same concern to NC’s lottery shakedown.



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