Tom Prichard is president of the Minnesota Family Council.
Who should pay for a new Vikings stadium? Minnesotans with gambling problems and addictions?
It sounds preposterous, yet that's the effect of legislation seeking to fund a new Vikings stadium with a massive expansion of gambling. It would place tens of thousands of electronic pull-tabs and bingo machines in bars and restaurants throughout the state in order to underwrite the state's contribution to the stadium.
Doing so would be an enormous mistake for several reasons.
First, gambling tax proceeds are a notoriously unpredictable source of funding. Simply look at the fiscal analyses of the stadium/electronic gambling bills over the past year. They range from $50 million to $70 million in tax payments to the state. Predictions of gross gambling receipts range from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion. Bars and restaurants using the electronic machines range from 2,500 to 3,500 sites, with 25,000 to 35,000 machines statewide.
Some question whether these revenue numbers are too optimistic. If the numbers are wrong, taxpayers could well be left holding the bag.
Second, expanding electronic pull-tab and bingo machines targets problem gamblers, because video or electronic gambling is the most addictive form of gambling. (Some call it the crack cocaine of gambling, because the gambling high compares to the high from crack cocaine.) No doubt that's a reason for the projected increase in gambling receipts. Studies of video slot machines in casinos find that a third to a half of video slot gambling revenues come from 1 percent of the gamblers. These are, of course, problem gamblers. Without compulsive gamblers, the reliance on expanding video or electronic gambling won't work.
Third, blanketing the state with tens of thousands of electronic gambling machines in thousands of bars and restaurants is like setting up mini-casinos in every corner of the state. Combining an addictive form of gambling with alcohol is a recipe for trouble. (The bill only allows for use of the machines in locations with liquor licenses or bingo halls.) This will only deepen indebtedness and addiction.
Fourth, it will lead to bigger government. It's estimated that 1 percent of the public is vulnerable to gambling addiction and problems. That's 50,000 Minnesotans. These Minnesotans have families and employers who will suffer the consequences of their gambling problems. Just ask the spouses or ex-spouses of problem gamblers. Such gambling breaks up marriages and families. And when families break up, more children are thrown into poverty, putting added burden on our social welfare system, which is called upon to pick up the pieces. It also increases crimes like embezzlement, theft, etc., which means more funds will be needed for public safety. Numerous studies show these costs far outweigh any benefits from the additional gambling.
Fifth, blanketing the state with electronic gambling further spreads the "get rich quick" message in our state. You don't have to save and work hard to get ahead. You can realize your dreams by gambling your money away. We're developing a gambling mentality with our finances and futures. According to a survey by the Consumer Federation of America, a full 20 percent of Americans think the best way to gain long-term financial security is by playing the lottery.
And finally, using an expansion of gambling for stadium funding means the state has a vested interest in turning more Minnesotans into gamblers. It's preying on the people it's supposed to be protecting. It's exploiting rather than protecting the people of Minnesota.
There are various ways for the state to pay for a new Vikings stadium. Turning more Minnesotans into problem gamblers shouldn't be one of them.