Nebraska is the latest state to discuss the expansion of gaming. It is in the process of establishing a renewed public policy regarding gambling. Whether it will be “good” public policy or “bad” policy remains to be seen. The facts are pretty straightforward. The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska would like to build a casino at a race track in South Sioux City.
The tribe’s economic development arm, Ho-Chunk Inc. purchased a defunct race track in 2012 and plans to bring back racing and with a little luck, it will add a casino. The tribe already has a casino in Sloan, Iowa, but would like one in its home state. Ho-Chunk is supporting a ballot measure that would authorize casinos at the state’s racetracks. Ho-Chunk and the good people of South Sioux City say Nebraskans are already gambling in casinos, but in Iowa. Supporters of expanding gaming in Nebraska want to keep that money at home.
That is a common argument; it has been used in nearly every state during debates on expanding gaming. But it is not a line of thinking that is finding favor with Pete Ricketts, the governor of Nebraska. Ricketts is against the expansion of gambling; in fact he is against gambling period. To make a point of its evils, Ricketts designated March as National Problem Gambling Awareness Month in Nebraska. He chose March because of the NCAA College Basketball Championships and the gambling madness that surrounds it.
Lincoln: Governor Pete Ricketts signed a proclamation on February 3, designating March as National Problem Gambling Awareness Month in Nebraska. March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month because one of the biggest sports betting events of the year, the NCAA College Basketball Championship tournament, occurs in March. Banner-Press, 3-17-16
As the tournament was winding down and the efforts of Ho-Chunk were ramping up, Ricketts came out against the racetrack casino measure. In addressing the issue, the governor did not mince his words.
“Gambling is bad for economic development. For every dollar you collect in tax revenues, you are spending three (dollars) in social services, whether it is child abuse, spousal abuse, embezzlement. So, gambling is not an economic driver for the state,” Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts said. Lincoln Journal Star, 4-3-16
Wow! Child abuse, spousal abuse and embezzlement all driven by gambling; who would have guessed? I wonder where Ricketts gets his facts. I do not mean to imply that there are no social costs to legalized gambling. All behaviors with a potential to become addictive have societal costs in their addictive form. Gambling, drugs (prescription and recreational), alcohol and shopping can be addictive in the extreme. That potential means there needs to be good public policies that protects vulnerable people, but not total prohibition which denies people access to activities they enjoy. I don’t know whether allowing casinos in Nebraska is good for Nebraska and I don’t know if Ho-Chunk’s plans are good for South Sioux City. However, I am convinced that Ricketts is not making an honest or true argument.
Creating effective policy is the core issue in Nebraska as it is any state contemplating legalized gambling. Professor William Eadington spent much of his career trying to point the way toward establishing “good” public policy with regard to legalized gambling. At the height of the expansion of commercial gaming in the 1990s, he testified before state legislatures everywhere expansion was being contemplated. Eadington was not against gambling, far from it. But he did oppose expansion without policies to protect the average citizen and potential gamblers. Bill was a man ahead of his times and often stood alone in advocating such measures. But today, good public policy is a position we can all endorse; it results from clear thinking and good facts. At the same time, we need be wary of bad policies. Those polices usually result from polarizing, inaccurate and false rhetoric. To paraphrase Geoff Freeman, bad public policy is a direct result of a misunderstanding. The citizens of Nebraska need and deserve protection and economic possibilities based on good policy, not bad. It is a complicated issue. Governor Ricketts did not add to a proper debate with his outrageous claims.