CT News Junkie | OP-ED | How To Find More Revenue? Try Robinhood In Reverse

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OP-ED | How To Find More Revenue? Try Robinhood In Reverse

by | Jun 19, 2015 5:30am
() Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Analysis, Gaming, Health Care, Opinion, Poverty, State Budget, Taxes


It isn’t often that I pray for the governor to fail — or that I root against new revenue sources that won’t even take money out of my own wallet. But I hope to God that the Office of Policy and Management can’t agree with the state’s two Indian casinos on a revenue-sharing arrangement for the highly addictive form of gambling known as keno.

The story of the game in Connecticut is almost comical. Keno was first seriously proposed in Connecticut in 2009 and 2010 by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and it was Democrats such as then-Senate President Pro Tem Don Williams who called it a “misery tax” whose burden would fall disproportionately on the poor. Fortunately, both those proposals went nowhere.

In 2013, the General Assembly adopted keno to close a budget deficit — a yawning gap that at this point, along with grasping to find new revenues, has become an annual phenomenon.

But lawmakers quickly repealed it the next year before it could be set up. In comical fashion, legislative leaders and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy fell all over themselves to disavow any knowledge of who initiated the original unpopular legislation. Not us, they insisted with a straight face.

Now lawmakers have changed their mind yet again. In the recent two-year spending package passed in the wee hours earlier this month, keno was among the new sources of revenue lawmakers will depend upon to balance the budget. It’s enough to make your head spin — or explode, depending on your point of view.

For the uninitiated, keno is a bingo-like lottery game that essentially offers a new lottery every few minutes — or what one columnist called a “personal, real-time numbers-based lottery game.” It is known to be highly addictive. And as is the case with most forms of gambling, the people who can least afford it are the biggest losers.

I work in Massachusetts, where it’s common to see people who barely have enough money to pay for the shirts on their backs line up at the Cumberland Farms in Great Barrington to play something called KENO-To-Go, which the state lottery commission created after a slump in regular Keno sales and which it markets as “a great opportunity for you to play up to 30 consecutive KENO games. All the rules and regulations are the same as the original KENO. You can leave the premises and check your ticket online.”

Oh boy! Perfect for sucker on-the-go. It would be one thing for a common huckster to pull a bait-and-switch, but am I the only one who is troubled by the government trying to lure the downtrodden into losing the little cash they have?

Under the Connecticut plan, the state’s 2,800 lottery retailers would be authorized to run keno, which is pretty much what you’d expect. But like Willie Sutton, lawmakers know where the money is so they’ve added hundreds of restaurants and bars to the list of establishments that will be eligible. Now imagine thousands of customers, lubricated by adult beverages, playing a highly addictive and costly game. The broker they get, the more money the government has to run itself.

But soaking the poor gamblers isn’t enough. Under the budget agreement, the tax on cigarettes will rise by 50 cents over the next two years to $3.90 per pack, making Connecticut second only to New York in the tax burden borne by smokers.

It’s hard to have much sympathy for smokers. It’s an offensive and deadly habit, to be sure. But studies have consistently shown that, like those who play the lottery, smokers are less educated and poorer than the general population.

In addition, racial minorities will be disproportionately affected by an increase in the cigarette tax since non-whites are far more likely to be smokers, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

How could a self-styled progressive state embrace such a regressive tax scheme? We’re effectively taxing poor people and the organizations that care for them (e.g. hospitals, whose Medicaid reimbursement rates are also being cut), while insisting that corporations pay the working poor higher wages. For what purpose? So that they can gamble away more of their paychecks?

All this for an estimated $43.6 million in keno revenue over the next two years. And, in the case of cigarettes, it’s not even clear whether higher taxes will actually bring in more money to the treasury because of the possibility of increased smuggling.

And of course the introduction of keno is essentially predicated on the assumption that we can’t find $43.6 million in savings anywhere in the budget. Does anyone really believe that?

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(6) Archived Comments

posted by: Bryan Kelleher | June 19, 2015  1:06pm

Your comment about “luring the downtrodden into losing the little cash they have” I find condescending and uninformed. The downtrodden are not in their economic state due to their Keno habits. Rather, it’s the unfair economic system biased towards people pontificating from their Herman Miller Aeron chairs that forces them to seek entertainment from a $2 game. Hold the I-know-how-you-should-spend-your-money lecture for your friends at the club.

posted by: le2011 | June 19, 2015  2:01pm

We deserve what we get by electing the same people over and over.

posted by: dano860 | June 19, 2015  9:55pm

The whole lottery thing has been a sham from the beginning. It was the savior of education, until they dumped it into the black hole. Then it would save everything else, until it wouldn’t. Then the income tax would pick up the slack. Then Dannel’s biggest hike in the tax would do it. Maybe the hike in tax on cigarettes will do it, the hike in booze tax didn’t. Of course they believe that a hike in cigarette tax will keep our precious youth from smoking, like the cost of drugs stops drug abuse. They really don’t think these things all the way through do they. None of this is in order but it doesn’t matter because nothing they have done or will do is going to solve anything but that won’t stop them from bleeding the poorest among us.
At the bottom of the whole problem is one simple issue…over spending.

posted by: Terry Cowgill | June 20, 2015  7:49am

Terry Cowgill

Bryan, thanks for your comment. I googled your name and found a Twitter page for a Bryan Kelleher who is prize director for something called Free Lotto, “where you can win $11 million every day. Play for free.” It would have helped if you had disclosed that to our readers if you are the same person.

That wouldn’t make you a bad person but it would give the audience good information with which to evaluate your response to this column. You obviously have an economic interest in the gambling business.

First of all, I never suggested that the “downtrodden are ... in their economic state due to their Keno habits.” Obviously, most poor people became poor before they ever gambled. But it is undeniable that the poor are more likely to gamble, especially on the lottery, than those who are well off. If you reject that simple fact, then you ignore decades of research on the subject.

If it makes you feel better to suggest that the poor gamble because they seek refuge from people like me, then you are free to do so. But it’s hardly compelling, given the mountain of data to the contrary.

There’s an old saying that I will paraphrase here: If you don’t have the facts on your side, pound the table.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | June 20, 2015  9:24am

We should lower the tax rate on cigarettes so the poor can afford more butts, smoke all day, die an early death, and stop claiming social service benefits? Is that what you are getting at?

Whose twisting the fatties now Terry?

HST

posted by: ocoandasoc | June 20, 2015  3:47pm

The CT legislature’s faux-progressives are happy to take from the rich and poor and middle class and business and seniors… They will never, however, take from the new 1% in CT—State and municipal labor union members and pensioners. (Because that’s who keeps them in office!) Their nearly criminal mismanagement of the State’s finances over the past three decades has their backs against the wall, but - like some snakes and mammals - that’s when they’re the most belligerent and dangerous.