Table Games and the Politics of Corruption

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Jefferson County, WV. In December my county will hold a referendum to decide whether or not table games will be permitted at the local race track/slot machine palace. Only two years ago the same referendum was brought before the people who soundly rejected the proposal with more than 60% opposed. At that time residents were inundated with flyers and ads extolling the many benefits the county was sure to reap if gaming were allowed. Most significantly, the schools would, we were told, enjoy the monetary benefits of this windfall. Now, no one is going to deny that our public schools are in need of a shot in the arm, but apparently, that line failed to convince a majority of the citizens that the benefits would outweigh the liabilities.

Since this initiative was soundly defeated only two years ago, one might wonder why it is again on the ballot. Why must the good citizens of Jefferson County make the trek to their respective polling places to cast a vote on an issue that was decided only 24 months ago?

As it turns out, this may be the fate of Jefferson County’s citizens forever, or at least until they finally vote the other way. For you see, the law is rigged.  Here’s how it works. According to West Virginia State Law (§ 29-22C-7. Local option election), racetracks can apply to add table games to their offerings, but only if the county votes to approve the measure. The county commission is obligated to place the issue on the ballot if the commission receives a written notice requesting the vote. The commission “may” require that the petitioners pay the costs of the special election. All well and good, it would seem. The people decide.

Once the election date has been set, the gambling interests turn on the propaganda machine. Two years ago, we received flyers virtually every day leading up to the election. The vast majority urged us to approve the measure. Glossy images of happy families, smiling and obviously well-educated school children, and testimonials from local leaders all pressed us in the most compelling ways to open this floodgate of prosperity and happiness that was only a “yes” vote away.

As I said, the citizens rejected the flim-flam two years ago. But it’s back. And it will keep coming back, for the law states that this issue can be brought to a special election every two years. All that is required is a letter to the county commissioners.

But here’s the kicker: if the citizens are eventually worn down by the persistence of the gaming advocates and table games come to Jefferson County, an initiative to have the games removed cannot be introduced for five years. Furthermore, the anti-table game initiative can only get on the ballot if a petition is submitted to the county commissioners with the signatures of 5% of residents eligible to vote in the next election. Finally, the law governing the introduction of table games cannot be preempted by any local law. In other words, the citizens of a county cannot democratically pass a law forbidding the introduction of table games in their county. They must endure the ad campaigns and trudge to the polls every twenty-four months to again tell the gambling interests to go away.

But, of course, they won’t. This law appears to have been written by the President of the Gaming Lobby and his elected cronies. While I do not support the introduction of table games in my county, if the people of Jefferson County vote to allow this activity, fine. That this law is so blatantly structured to advantage a special interest and to disadvantage the democratic process is far more troubling. The apparent message is this: if you have a special interest and money, you have access, and access means influence. The average citizen is hardly a match for such collusion. And this rather small and, in relative terms, insignificant issue here in Jefferson County, WV is an illustration of what, I fear, goes on in state houses and in Washington D.C. all the time. Need a regulation to favor your industry? Pay up. The fact that corporations, for example, contribute to candidates of both parties is telling. Smart people don’t pay money if they aren’t confident they will get something in return. Elected officials too often play the game. Democracy is replaced by cronyism. Corporatism triumphs over small business.  Local self-government is constrained by laws intended to favor a few. The voices of the people are  muted by the special interests who have found a way to rig the system and, as a result, hit the jackpot.

8 comments on this post.
  1. Weasly Pilgrim:

    The voices of the people are muted by the special interests who have found a way to rig the system and, as a result, hit the jackpot.

    So it ever is when there is ill-gotten gain to be had. There are similar situations across the state line in Pennsylvania, only our state was late to the game and is trying to play catch-up. We were assured several years back when gambling interests pushed slot machines through that there would be no immediate push to legalize table games. But then, the powers-that-be watched all that money going out-of-state to places with table games (like West Virginia), and concluded that our enemies neighbors across the state lines were taking money that was rightfully ours, so now a couple years later we are on the cusp of legalizing table games too. Anyway, it looks tacky to only be fleecing grannies with buckets full of nickles when we could be going after the high-rollers and their wads of flash money.

    As the state comes to rely more and more heavily on gaming money as a critical part of the revenue stream, I predict that there will come a point where citizens will be given a tax break on gambling expenditures, thus providing incentive to every tax payer to gamble. What is currently a “sin tax” will morph into a “virtue tax” penalizing those who refuse to participate. When the rate of flow from the gambling spigot reaches its limit, some state somewhere will “innovate” in this manner and thereby perpetuate the arms race.

  2. D.W. Sabin:

    The puerile state of Government and Politics notwithstanding, one does have to enjoy, with bared canines, the fact that gaming interests would use infusions of cash into education as a chief means of pitching their game. This is what we are reduced to folks, casinos fulfilling the needs of those things the citizenry, without a croupier…… is unable to facilitate.

    Get Something For Nothing culture is gaming itself. Unfortunately, there aint no payout.

  3. Mark Shiffman:

    The promise of education dollars is usually a bait-and-switch tactic. The more that pours in from the games, the less the government has to pony up from other sources, and the net gain for the schools, if there is any, is negligible.

  4. Bill Parsons:

    Mark, although a resident of Oregon since 1984, I’m a native of Hancock County WV and from very early on saw the corrosive effects of legal and illegal gambling on individuals and the community there. When I was a young man in the ’60s, the best thing that the good people of our community would say about the local racetrack was that is was an evil that it was possible to tolerate, in fact, had to be because the choice had already been made for us by the politicians in Charleston. What happened since then to cause society to accept gambling in all its forms as just another recreational choice? I’ve lived through the change in social attitudes and still don’t understand the why and how. In 2003 when the author of “The Book of Virtues” was discovered to be a Vegas high roller, he should have been shamed and driven out of public life. The news was greeted with a collective shrug. Just one more sign of the apocalypse, I guess. I hope the voters of Jefferson County have enough front porch common sense to tell the gaming lobby to go to Hell, again.

  5. Janotec:

    Here in Pittsburgh, we were promised — if we allowed a casino on the Three Rivers — help in funding a new arena for the Penguins, a big new windfall in county and city taxes, and streets paved with gold (at least a grocery store) for the ignored poor minority neighborhoods in the Hill district.

    Nope on everything so far.

    The explanation is that gamblers just haven’t been gambling enough. I interviewed a few slot people at church. They said that Atlantic City and Vegas were a lot fancier and there was a lot more excitement than the casino in their city.

    I am as tired of the casinos as are the rivers. Bishops have gotten framed in casinos by lizard ladies with Rabelaisian décolletage. Middle-aged rootless cubicle denizens have convinced themselves that swiping a card in the video poker screen is better than pruning a rose bush or climbing a rock. Indentured servants in HUD quonset huts descend on Fridays, trading EBT balances for cash, for the surefire rapture of movin’ on up to the Jeffersons’ skybox.

    Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, someone said. Makes some people — the usual suspects — filthy rich, because that is what statistics do in hell. But it makes those who hope (and who need) sick indeed.

  6. Bruce Smith:

    Heck you think you should be worried about local gambling. It’s gambling with the economy as usual on Wall Street and K Street! With these people when you’re making money out of this sickness who cares!

  7. Sam M:

    I think the tonic to this would be to go in the other direction: Propose a law that not only allows gambling at two or three gaming meccas, but allows it pretty much everywhere. Let the local saloon pay off on the video poker machine (tip: they are paying out already anyway) let the local Moose club have poker night (they have it anyway) let people gample on sports (they do anyway), etc.

    Nobody wants to go to the mecca unless they have to. And… unless they can monopolize the gaming, the big casino operators want nothing to do with it.

    So give them a poison pill. Everytime they propose a gambling mecca, run a similar campaign that would democratize the gambling.

  8. denny clarke:

    I live in Berk Co – lifetime- is there any relationship between financial status of gamblers and people on –ie welfare? I am opposed to tables. It would seem that the gamblers may lean toward poorer. if so and the odds are always against them then all of us – Jeff Co, Berk Co WV and rest of the country share in paying additional taxes to support this habit through food stamps, welfare medicade etc. of course the worst sinner is the one who leads others to sin — I want to write an article to Journal encouraging a NO vote but I need more facts if you can send them to me. I do not want my letter to the editor to be just based on morality
    it would seem that Penn??? has the more to gain. why not just pass a levy
    this not is not for publication just want a few more facts Denny

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