Making sure everyone gets their cut
Most state lawmakers are all in for gambling. Like legal and illegal advocates of the vice, they view the social dysfunction and personal tragedy that it can produce as somebody else's problem. Gambling enables them to increase revenue without directly raising taxes.
In the Capitol, lawmakers no longer discuss whether expanded gambling to fund the government is appropriate public policy, as they did when state-sanctioned casino gambling first gained traction just a decade ago. Now, the only debates are about which special interests will benefit or be adversely affected by the latest gambling enterprise, and the use of the state's cut.
Regarding pending bills to allow gambling - "small games" - to expand into bars, for example, the debate has been about the potential impact on licensed private clubs and distribution of the overall take.
As in all other aspects of legalized gambling, the state wants a hefty vigorish, or what a bookie would call the "vig." Both bills call for the state government to receive 60 percent of the take, or about $150 million. The Senate bill would leave the other 40 percent with bar owners; the House version would leave 35 percent with bar owners and provide for distribution of the other 5 percent to municipal governments based on the number of licenses within their borders.
Since the proposed expansion appears to be inevitable, lawmakers at least should ensure that local governments get some of the money and more than 5 percent.
State Rep. Mario Scavello of Monroe County has estimated that the House bill could result in local governments receiving $50,000 to $100,000 a year, depending on the number of licenses in each town. A bigger piece of the "vig" could really help. Rather than limiting the municipal cut to 5 percent, the state should share it equally with local governments.