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Gambling to the Rescue? Don’t Bet on It

Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore.

Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore.

Photo by Dan Anderson

Here’s an unexpected development from Goat Hill: Lawmakers are looking at a gap in the state’s General Fund estimated to be $250 million or more. Gov. Robert Bentley, who first won election with a platform built on low taxes, has said that the money may have to come from dialing down tax deductions or finding new revenues. 

Some are speculating that a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians or a statewide lottery could be the deep, refreshing well that quenches Montgomery’s thirst for money in 2015 and beyond.

Not so fast, according to John Hill, a senior policy analyst for the Alabama Policy Institute. The independent nonprofit does research dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families. In an essay for online news commentary outlet Yellowhammer, Hill posited that gambling is not the right fix for Alabama or any other state.

“According to a 2010 report by the Rockefeller Institute, gambling-related revenues accounted for only 2.1% to 2.5% of total revenues between 1998 and 2009 for states with large-scale gambling. Alabama should expect nothing different if it legalizes casinos or a lottery,” Hill says.

“If a compact was established with the Poarch Creeks that gave the state 10 percent of the tribe’s casino revenues — which totaled $600 million in 2012 — the $60 million that would be generated would pay for only 3.2 percent of the state’s $1.8 billion General Fund budget. If the money was earmarked for schools, it would amount to only 1 percent of the state’s Education Trust Fund, just enough to pay for 3.7 days of public education.”

Worse yet, 16 states have already started reporting declines for three or more years, suggesting Alabama may have already missed the train. Hill says the gambling market is already swamped, with 95 percent of Americans already living in lottery states, and most living within a few hours’ drive of one or more of 979 casinos scattered across the country.

Still, there’s no shortage of believers. Officials with the Pearl River Resort recently announced that they’ll showcase $70 million in renovations Jan. 31 with the reopening of the bigger, better Golden Moon Hotel & Casino in Choctaw, Mississippi.

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