Slot Machine

Credit: Jeff Kubina. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Once again, well-funded casino operators want to change Nebraska’s constitution to allow casino gambling. The change would allow all forms of gambling across the state, from slot machines to online sports betting. And such a constitutional change immediately empowers Nebraska’s three tribes to offer all forms of gambling with no state taxation or oversight. Here are compelling reasons to vote down these initiatives, and to tell your friends and neighbors to vote “no” as well.

The initiative is deceptive.  It discusses racetracks, but a “racetrack” could offer 24/7 casino gambling 365 days/year by holding just one race per year. Dozens of such “licensed-racetrack-enclosure” casinos could open across the state, approved and overseen by unelected officials with no legislative or public oversight.

Who is for casino gambling? Casino operators are. They stand to make millions. Who is against casino gambling? A broad coalition of Nebraska’s leadership, both Democratic and Republican: Senator Bob Kerrey, CEO Warren Buffett, Ron Brown, Governors Pete Ricketts, Dave Heineman, Mike Johanns, Kay Orr, Congressmen Hal Daub and Tom Osborne, and more oppose casino expansion here. Trust them.

Tom Osborne said, “Every single congressman that I’ve talked to, when they’ve had expanded gambling move in, has told me it’s the worst thing that has ever happened.”

What about the money going over the bridge to border states? “Keep the Money in Nebraska” is a myth. Distributing casinos across communities here would be like throwing gasoline on the fire. Just one casino in Omaha would increase gambling losses in Omaha by 66% and add $132 million in social costs while Nebraskans will continue to gamble in Iowa, according to an Omaha Chamber of Commerce study.  We’ve seen this scenario actually play out. Detroit voters approved casinos to “stop” $500 million going across the river to Windsor, Canada. More people got hooked on gambling, and the outflow to Canada increased to $700 million.

Creighton Economist Ernie Goss recently demonstrated that citizens pay higher tax rates in casino states than in non-casino states. That suggests that if we try to balance property tax relief on the backs of addicted gamblers, who account for some two thirds of casino revenues, then other Nebraska taxes will go up (Google “Why Casinos Matter” for the research). The promised tax relief is a shell game.

“Slots in Nebraska will just drain more money out of the state,” says John E. Anderson, University of Nebraska Department of Economics.

More gambling will mean significantly more social costs. Gambling’s ABCs—Addiction, Bankruptcy, Crime, Divorce, Embezzlement, and other side-effects—cost at least three times any benefits, according to University of Illinois Economist Earl Grinols. Casinos won’t pay; taxpayers will. The modern slot machine is not a game. It’s fast, computerized, and meticulously designed to capture players. That’s why modern slots are known as the “crack-cocaine of gambling.”  

CEO Warren Buffett frequently sets the record straight on gambling. He says “I think that for a state to essentially prey upon its citizens, create more of these addictions…I just think it’s wrong. I think it’s cynical on the part of the state to raise money from people who basically can’t afford it by promising them a dream that will not come true. There is no way the citizens of Nebraska won’t become losers...we don’t need it.” His partner Charlie Monger adds, “Casinos wreak egregious harm.”

Jewish tradition frowns on gambling. According to the Talmud, when a buyer and a seller make a transaction, both must give consent. The buyer must be happy parting with money to receive something of value from the seller. With gambling, this exchange is dishonest, because the buyer does not receive what he expects. The Jewish community should reject this dishonesty. It’s not difficult to see that gambling becomes a harmful, predatory, regressive tax on those who can least afford it.

Want to “Keep the Money in Nebraska”? Then keep slot machines and sports betting out. Keep unlimited tribal casinos out. Keep the heartache and destruction of addiction out. Vote NO on 429, 430 and 431.

Editorials express the view of the writer and are not necessarily representative of the views of the Jewish Press Board of Directors, the Jewish Federation of Omaha Board of Directors, or the Omaha Jewish community as a whole.