Democrats walk back their awful casino proposal (a bit)

Two days ago, I said I hoped that when the SC House Democrats announced their legislative priorities on Tuesday, they would back away from their awful idea of legalizing casinos in order to pay for roads.

I didn’t have much confidence that they would, and I didn’t attend their presser.

But I’m pleased and surprised by the release they sent out after yesterday’s event. No, they didn’t abandon the idea. But it was no longer the first thing they mentioned on the topic of paying for roads, and the first thing was now the one rational way to do it — by raising the tax that is intended for that purpose, a tax that hasn’t been raised since 1987:

SC House Democrats Announce 2015 Legislative Agenda
Highlights include road funding, education funding reform, equal pay, redistricting reform
Columbia, SC – South Carolina House Democrats announced their legislative agenda for the 2015-16 session at a press conference at the state house on Tuesday. Led by Minority Leader Representative Todd Rutherford, Democrats first stressed the need to tackle road funding this session.
“House Democrats are endorsing an ‘all of the above’ approach to road funding this year,” said Democratic Leader Todd Rutherford (D-Richland). “The time to be picky about how we fund our roads is over. Simply put, we will not stand in the way of a gas tax increase, nor will we stand in the way of new revenue through casinos. The only thing we’ll stand in the way of is kicking the can down the road. We have to plug our $45 billion infrastructure deficit before a bridge collapses and people die.”
Democrats also called on the Governor and Republicans in the general assembly to withdraw their “embarrassing” appeal to the Supreme Court ruling over K-12 funding.
“For twenty years, Republicans have ignored the issue of education funding in South Carolina,” said Representative James Smith (D-Richland.) “Instead of fighting the Supreme Court ruling calling on us to address the inequalities in school funding, let’s actually roll up our sleeves and do it. We owe it to the students, parents, and teachers of South Carolina. “
Democrats also called on Governor Haley to negotiate a South Carolina-centered alternative to Medicaid Expansion with the federal government to allow us to bring our federal tax dollars back to the state.
“It makes zero sense to continue to refuse to accept our own tax dollars just so Governor Haley can thumb her nose at the President,” said Rep. Justin Bamberg (D-Bamberg). “Fourteen Republican Governors have now come out in support of some sort of Expansion alternative that they negotiated with the federal government. Why shouldn’t we do the same?”
The other issues Democrats will focus on this session include equal pay for female state employees. South Carolina is one of just four states in the nation without a equal pay law. Representative Leon Stavrinakis has proposed a bill that would ban gender pay discrimination among state employees. His bill was modeled after a Louisiana bill that passed an overwhelming Republican General Assembly and signed into law by conservative Republican Governor Bobby Jindal.
House Democrats also endorsed a plan to establish a living wage in South Carolina. Currently, South Carolina is one of just five states in the country without a state-mandated minimum wage law. Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter’s proposal would set the wage at $10.10 per hour.
Democrats also pledged their support for ethics reform this session. Though they said any ethics reform should also include reforming the redistricting process in South Carolina. Their proposal would install an independent panel to draw district lines instead of partisan legislators. In 2014, 100% of all incumbent legislators were re-elected in the general election.
“District lines are purposely drawn by legislators in order to create a safer political environment for themselves and their political party,” said Rep. Laurie Funderburk (D-Kershaw), the author of the bill. “Gerrymandering has created a polarized legislature that seeks to root out moderates and replace them with politicians who only have to worry about winning their primaries. Reforming our redistricting process is critical to a more functional General Assembly and regaining the trust of the voters.”

Sure, I’d like to see them pick up the gas tax ball and run with it, but this indirect sort of endorsement at least marks progress.

40 thoughts on “Democrats walk back their awful casino proposal (a bit)

  1. Doug Ross

    Casinos are better than the lottery. Swap one for the other.

    The minimum wage scam is and will always be a temporary “fix”. Everyone at the bottom of the skills and motivation pool doesn’t deserve a raise. My daughter makes less than 10.10 right now as a baker. The people who work the cash register shouldn’t make the same as her — or are they going to raise her pay to $11? People are paid what they are worth and what the market determines they are worth.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      The only thing that makes the lottery worse than casinos is that with the lottery, it’s the STATE that’s bilking its citizens. It’s outrageous for the state to view citizens as marks…

      1. Silence

        You are 100% correct that it is outrageous for the state to actively bilk residents via the lottery. As Atlantic City, Delaware, and other areas have found out, though, casinos are not a panacea. They only make any money if they are few and far between.
        I know I’ve proposed this before, but let’s replace the lottery with a saving system – where you could buy state and locally issued municipal bonds in small denominations at the gas station. In time they’d pay you back with interest. You could even incorporate a lottery-style component into it with a few big jackpots in addition to regular interest.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          You know, what Silence? I like your bonds idea. Sort of like War Bonds in WWII. A positive way of voluntarily chipping in for the common good.

          We could call them, “Great Day in South Carolina Bonds.” No, I don’t think that’s a good name, but I’m trying to get the governor interested…

      2. bud

        Casinos are voluntary. How can that be construed as a big negative? Taxation for immoral, counterproductive wars on the other hand are a downright disgusting intrusion on those of us who view this as an affront to everything America should stand for. Brad, you really have warped priorities.

  2. Doug Ross

    I’d like to know what harm you believe would come from legalizing casinos? Will gambling addiction increase? If so, by how much? Will there be more jobs and money brought into the economy? How much tax revenue would have to be generated before you’d say “Hmmmm… we could do a lot of good things for the state if that happened?”

    Seems like you’re against simply due to your own moral standards. Your standards may not sync up with the majority of South Carolinians.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I really don’t care how much money it brings in. It’s the wrong way to run a government. This isn’t some prudish objection based on personal morality, like getting upset at the idea of playing cards on Sunday or something. This is about corrupting the essential relationship between a free people and the government that derives its legitimacy from them.

      Here’s how grownups pay for roads and other government services — they dig into their pockets, and they pay for it. And we have an eminently fair mechanism for that — the gas tax.

      1. Doug Ross

        Are you opposed to liquor taxes, cigarette taxes, stripper pole taxes?

        How many tax dollars are spent trying to stop illegal gambling? Wasted money in my view. Let people do what they want to do if they aren’t harming anyone else.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I think liquor and cigarette taxes are great. As you know, I advocated for raising the cigarette tax for years before we finally did, sort of.

          I’m not familiar with the stripper tax. So… is there such a job as Stripper Tax Assessor? If so, I’ll bet there are a lot of applicants…

      2. bud

        I support a gas tax increase but casinos really would be a nice new form of voluntary entertainment that would be a win win for the people and the government coffers.

          1. Doug Ross

            I’d like to see proof of that. You believe it would be a net negative revenue endeavor? Have you been to Cherokee, NC? Last time I went there a couple years ago, I saw a lot of brand new municipal buildings and schools.

            People are gambling illegally right now. In fact, next week’s Super Bowl will generate billions of illegal and offshore gambling. The illegal gambling leads to all sorts of other bad behavior by organized crime which also requires expending significant law enforcement resources.

            Net net, considering the jobs created and the tax revenue, it could be a boon to South Carolina’s economy.

            1. Mark Stewart

              South Carolina has probably always been rancid with corruption. Video poker raised that cancer to staggering proportions. If I were to hazard a guess, I would think that Sheriff Metts (not to single out one individual as if he were unique or unusual) would agree with the proposition that distributed gambling has indelibly tainted many careers and even souls.

              Doug believes that legalizing vices would end the corruption. I don’t believe that. I think that the real problem that balloons corruption is the heatmap which arises from points of friction – the smaller, less noticed and more pervasive these interactions are, the more likely they are to systemically poison society overall and our governing bodies (both legislative and administrative) specifically.

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              That’s right, Mark.

              To give Silence an honest and accurate answer, as an alternative to Doug’s facetious one…

              That is to say, accurate as best as I can remember without easy access to The State’s archives.

              Back in the late 80s, one highly skilled but ethically challenged lawmaker — the inimitable Jack Lindsey — snuck a proviso legalizing video poker into the state budget one night late in the session. It passed along with the budget, with most lawmakers having no idea what they were voting on.

              Poker machines started popping up everywhere over the next few years.

              Over time, the industry threw off all constraints, in court and through favorable regulatory rulings. Video poker grew to a $3 billion industry (I once calculated that people were spending more on that than on gasoline in SC), and a huge portion of that was used to ensure the political power of the poker barons. They used their new wealth to intimidate lawmakers into doing their will. Any legislator who dared try to limit or regulate the industry in any way could count on having well-financed opposition in the next primary.

              In 1998, video poker took out a governor, by financing the campaign of challenger Jim Hodges. The reign of fear in the State House reached its height.

              There were other concerns that caused folks who had once tolerated the industry to turn against it. One was that this was demonstrably the most addictive form of gambling there is — something about the neurological effect of the instant reward and the flashing lights. People who would never get hooked on other forms of gambling found it irresistible.

              And no one could miss it; the addiction was on display for all to see. There was no more profitable use of convenience store space than a poker machine. So when you bought gas and went in to pay, you walked in to a cloud bank of cigarette smoke generated by nervous addicts who had been sitting on stools in front of the machines for hours.

              But for us at the paper, the biggest problem was the way it was corrupting our political system.

              So a consensus began to form against video poker, and it was eventually outlawed.

              The way that happened was pretty tricky — it sort of had to be, given lawmakers’ fear of the industry. Lawmakers called for a statewide referendum on whether video poker would continue to be legal.

              The poker industry, seeing it was behind in the polls, went to court to prevent the referendum from happening, which was a predictable move on their part. They “won.” But a provision in the law — this one passed openly, not the way Lindsey had done — required that poker could only continue to be legal if it won the referendum. So since there would BE no referendum (one poker would have lost), video poker was no longer legal.

            3. Brad Warthen Post author

              Something I didn’t mention, since I can’t remember some key details… but what I DO remember is worth sharing, I believe…

              As concerns grew about video poker, there were county-by-county referenda in 1994. The State, reassured by the taxation and regulation that the referenda seemed to promise, urged local voters to approve it. (I disagreed, but I lost that argument.)

              Courts later threw out the results of those local referenda; I forget why.

              In any case, over the next few years it became obvious that the poker industry had no intention of being taxed or regulated, and their lawyers won battle after battle for them.

              And the public, and The State, turned against the industry in response…

            4. Brad Warthen Post author

              Here’s a piece from TIME (apparently) from 1998. I don’t think I saw this at the time. But I was talking to my homeboy Doug Jennings a lot during this period, and all of this squares with what I recall of his courageous metamorphosis on the issue:

              You know the tide has turned against video gambling when Doug Jennings announces it’s time to throw it out of his state. The South Carolina legislator, a lawyer and popular fourth-term Democrat, had backed the video-machine operators ever since he took office in 1991; after all, they helped keep many small businesses alive in his rural, job-starved district skirting the North Carolina border. But this year Jennings listened to another part of his constituency, spouses and children of addicted gamblers who begged him to back a bill banning the machines.

              Local tales of woe abound: there’s the service-station owner who got rid of his after watching a neighbor lose his house and his car; or the young pizza-franchise manager in a neighboring county who has a criminal record after feeding the machines for weeks with his store’s cash. “People have been losing their homes, their cars. Families are breaking up,” said Jennings. “I had a client tell me, ‘I want you to ban these things. I’m hooked, and the only way I can get away from them is if you take them away.'” So when a group of poker-machine operators visited him not once but twice this year and threatened to punish his political turnabout by financing a primary opponent, Jennings didn’t budge. In his re-election bid, he faces Marlboro County coroner Tim Brown, who has hired one of the state’s top-drawer consultants to run ads hammering Jennings for his vote….

              I say “courageous” because I knew how nervous Doug was about standing up to the late Alan Schafer (the owner of South of the Border and the biggest poker operator in that area)…

            5. Doug Ross

              @Mark – I never said it would end corruption. I think it would reduce it. You don’t think the illegal bookmaking operations have taken a hit since internet gambling has proliferated?

            6. Doug Ross

              Do you have any factual data that would suggest that banning video poker has eliminated gambling addiction or ended the anecdotal stories of “the guy I know who knows a guy who lost his house due to gambling”?

              The existence of video poker didn’t create addicts. They’ve likely moved on to other things.

              And, anyway, the problem you speak of regarding access to video poker machines in convenience stores wouldn’t exist with casinos. The vast majority of people who frequent casinos can control their behavior. I’ve been to Vegas a half dozen times in the past five years. The people I see there seem to be enjoying themselves very much. But we know that’s the real reason some are against gambling – it’s “immoral”.

            7. Doug Ross

              You think Brett Parker would have killed his wife and another guy in Columbia two years ago if he wasn’t running an illegal bookmaking operation? Isn’t that worse than losing a house due to video poker addiction?

              Bad people do bad things. Stupid people do stupid things. Preventing people from doing something they want to do opens up the opportunity for bad people to take advantage of stupid people.

            8. Kathryn Fenner

              There’s a ton of evidence that access to the thing one is likely to become addicted to greatly increases the chance of addiction. For example, when middle class women had ready, legal access to morphine (for female troubles) in the 19th century, they became addicted in droves. When it became no longer readily available, numbers of addicts fell, and now almost no middle class women are addicted to morphine.

              It’s addiction prevention.

            9. Brad Warthen Post author

              Doug notes, about people who go to Vegas: “The people I see there seem to be enjoying themselves very much.”

              Really? Because I’ve always thought one of the most depressing sights I’ve ever seen is someone sitting there doggedly plugging coins into a slot machine, one after another, like an automaton. It looks to be about as much fun as banging one’s head against a wall. I would want to be anywhere else, doing almost anything else.

              Yet I know some people really get excited about going to Vegas, and spend loads of money to get there. That is something I will never, ever understand.

              For a brief period when I was in college, I was shooting pool and playing cards for money. I VERY quickly realized that losing money wasn’t any fun at all. And that losing money was inevitably involved. (I also learned that shooting pool for money WAS gambling, despite my exaggerated sense of my own skills.)

              I’ll never understand how anybody enjoys it, or would cross the street to do it, much less fly to Vegas. I wonder what kind of void it fills…

            10. Doug Ross

              Again, Brad, just because you don’t like to gamble or see any value in it doesn’t make any difference as to whether others should be denied that option. I could just as easily say that anyone who spends more than $1 for a cup of coffee is an addict who is wasting his money. Same for people who buy Beanie Babies, Gamecock memorabilia, or antiques. How people spend their money shouldn’t be your concern.

              Why do so many companies choose Las Vegas for conventions? Because people LIKE to go there. It’s not just gambling. It’s shows, shopping, food, clubs… What if that same option was available on the East coast at Myrtle Beach? You don’t want those tourism dollars flowing into the state?

            11. Brad Warthen Post author

              Again, you’re reminding me why I don’t want to go to Vegas. The shows, everything, seem so unappealing.

              I mean, I love Elvis, but Vegas Elvis was NOT good Elvis. Of course, I’m picky. I think the best Elvis was when he was performing in parking lots in northern Mississippi, moving that way because it was natural and not an act, and with undyed hair. And dressed in hepcat clothes he bought at Lansky’s in Memphis, not sequined jumpsuits.

            12. Brad Warthen Post author

              This is DEFINITELY a “different strokes” thing, which erects a communication barrier. Lots of smart, discriminating people love Vegas. I just don’t know why…

  3. Juan Caruso

    “It’s outrageous for the state to view citizens as marks…” -Brad W.

    Agree 100% at both the state AND federal level. There are too many examples now. Casinos would mostly benefit the following: land developers, contractors, politicians, trial attorneys and attract elements and activities with which SC is ill-prepared to cope (graft, kickbacks, and serious crime). Moreover, SC is hardly in a position to compete with Las Vegas for luxurious destinations and free airfares.

    Let’s concentrate on divesting our hazardous radioactive waste stockpile to rid ourselves of that “temporary” distinction, or have Nevada start paying us some of their casino tax revenues for blocking the Yucca mountain repository that all federal taxpayers have financed!

    1. Doug Ross

      ” Moreover, SC is hardly in a position to compete with Las Vegas for luxurious destinations and free airfare”

      You mean like Connecticut? There is an excellent casino there that is doing very well (Mohegan Sun).

      I am 99.5% convinced that a similar casino in Myrtle Beach would do very well. One hour from I95? The snowbirds would love it. The offseason tourism economy would get a healthy boost – which helps hotels, restaurants, small businesses.

      1. Silence

        I also think that a casino in Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head would do very well – not that those two areas need much help. But their success would come from being the only game around. If you had competing casinos in nearby in Savannah and Wilmington, for instance, they would do much less well. Once gambling was legalized in neighboring states (NY, PA, DE, MD), Atlantic City got smacked hard. Dover Downs is pretty close to being bankrupt as well. It’s hard to imagine a casino losing money. Isn’t the house always supposed to win?

        I can see an arguement for opening casinos in some of the hardest hit areas of the state:
        The Haley Taj Mahal in Denmark
        The Gravel Nugget in Allendale
        The Luxor in Lancaster
        The Lucky Strike in Mullins
        The Venetian in Kingstree
        The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in McCormick
        The Casino de Greenwood
        Clyburn’s Palace in Holly Hill

      2. Juan Caruso

        Conneticut’s 3 casinos have been native American enterprises, and as of late:

        “Revenue falls at state casinos as regional competition emerges”
        Bill Cummings – Sunday, August 24, 2014

        1. Doug Ross

          ““Revenue falls at state casinos as regional competition emerges”

          Yes, and so? That same headline applies to Sears, K-Mart, Burger King, Circuit City, Books-A-Million. Competition forces monopolies to become better or die.

          1. Juan Caruso

            largely because SC does not need another commission of good ‘ol boys to oversee all of the onerousl oversight responsibilities required by law that casino gambling entails.

            SC (State Government) has neither the expertise nor a great history of adapting to novel ideas in highly regulated fields.
            Moreover, state government is the leading industry in SC (by number of employed). That may be great for government employees, but it is not a wholesome trend for any state. take california, for example.

  4. Bryan Caskey

    Casinos would mostly benefit the following: land developers, contractors, politicians, trial attorneys and attract elements and activities with which SC is ill-prepared to cope (graft, kickbacks, and serious crime).

    Hey now, I think South Carolina is very well versed in graft, kickbacks, and serious crime. 🙂

    1. Juan Caruso

      Well versed no doubt, perhaps even innovative, but SC has neither the required task forces (full-time attorneys) nor can SC afford the attendant oversight expertise and “good-ol-boy commission” that would be required to monitor a casino industry.

      I recall escaping many of such obstacles outside of the U.S. continental limit. Unlike SC, Nevada has little offshore casino competition.

      I appreciate our need for trial attorneys, B.C., and have never intended disparaging remarks for stand-up types versus the termitic kind that raid public coffers and comprise 50 % of the U.S. Congress, 100% of the monopoly called the Supreme Court, and about 80% of the executive branch.

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