By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — The Cherokee gambling compact being touted by the Governor’s office as a job generator and a boon to public schools would truly be the government’s latest foray into what has proven to be one of the biggest public policy failures in the last 40 years, according to Les Bernal, executive director of Stop Predatory Gambling.
Bernal, who was in North Carolina early this week, said what is being proposed in the state has failed in every other state where it has been implemented.
“Government predatory gambling programs are based on pushing citizens into deeper personal debt and creating addiction in order to feed off of it,” he said. “There is no issue that better represents what is broken about government today than government’s failed policy of casinos and state lotteries.”
Gamblers have been lured to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino since 1997 under a 1994 compact that was expanded in 2000 and again in 2002. Last year after long negotiations, the governor and the tribe struck a 30-year deal that would earmark 4 percent of gross receipts from live table gaming for public schools for the first five years; 5 percent for the next five and so on up to 8 percent for the final decade in exchange for exclusive casino gaming rights west of Interstate 26.
The General Assembly, which would have to amend state law to legalize the games called for in the compact, did not rush to take up the issue as the Governor had hoped they would last November. Instead, Republican leaders raised concerns about the revenue distribution plan, which would have bypassed the Legislature and sent funds straight to the education department, and questioned whether the exclusivity promise would create an unconstitutional monopoly.
While the Governor’s office downplayed the issues and expects to have the compact on the table when lawmakers come to Raleigh later this month for a mini-session, the Raleigh News & Observer reported last week that it is far from a done deal. Still, promises of an initial $2.5 million or so in education money and 300 to 400 jobs are turning heads.
But the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said legislators need to look beyond the dangling carrot of quick profits and down the road to increased addiction, rising crime and growing poverty based on empty gambling industry promises.
Bernal said one of the questions that every citizen should ask as the legislature considers this is “what percentage of the casino profits come from problem gambling?” (According to Christina Binkley’s “Winner Takes All,” it’s 90 percent.)
“They don’t have a business without addicted gamblers and without citizens who are in deep personal debt,” he said. “It’s a business based on people losing money. What other business does that? The only reason it hasn’t come under more scrutiny is that government is a full partner in the scam.”
He said Atlantic City has had casinos for 35 years and its economy is worse than ever, with New Jersey taxpayers having to bail out casinos. Similarly, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the state of Nevada has one of the largest deficits as a percent of its 2012 general fund.
Although Bernal admitted that some casinos had made some individual investors extremely wealthy, he said most of the Native America tribes across the country still suffer serious poverty.
“It’s representative of how many tribes are still being exploited today by companies like Harrah’s,” he said.
Stop Predatory Gambling, a national non-profit based in Washington, points out that just because an industry promises jobs doesn’t make it a sound economic investment.
“Countrywide Mortgage, one of the nation’s failed subprime lenders, made a lot of money and employed a lot of people at one time, but it was phony prosperity,” Bernal said. “Casinos are the prime example of phony prosperity.”
He said during his visit to North Carolina, he couldn’t help but think of infamous Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff sitting in his jail cell near Butner, North Carolina, likely thinking to himself that he went into the wrong business.
“He’s probably thinking if I had just gone into the casino business, the best something-for-nothing scheme ever invented, I’d be a billionaire and public officials would be slapping me on the back saying ‘thank you,'” Bernal said.
Instead of buying the “fake narrative” that the gambling industry is spending millions to promote, he said the Tar Heel state should learn from its own failed experiment with the lottery.
“The state lottery is a failed policy. It has not delivered the revenues the people said it was going to deliver, but it has all the problems that we knew ahead of time were going to come into play. It is making most of its money off the working class, so that N.C. has turned its working class into its lottery class,” he said.
Beyond the fact that schools are receiving less funding now than they did before the lottery was approved, Bernal points to the damaging change that gambling has wrought on Americans’ work ethic.
According to surveys by the Consumer Federation of America, more than one fifth of Americans believe that winning the lottery — not working, saving or wisely investing — represents the most practical way to accumulate several hundred thousand dollars.
“The government has created this perception,” Bernal said. “It was not true 50 years ago. Fifty years ago the way out of poverty was education and saving and having a strong work ethic. Now, through a government program of predatory gambling we’ve changed that. That’s why I say there is no issue that better represents what is broken about government today.”
The Rev. Creech said he’ll be meeting with lawmakers during their mini-session, which begins Feb. 16 to encourage them not to expand gambling in any form in North Carolina. No doubt they will be hearing from multiple gaming promoters and tribal representatives as well.
According to Democracy North Carolina, the Cherokee tribe has given nearly $1.1 million to state and legislative candidates and political committees since 2002, with nearly $700,000 given between 2007 and 2010.
Take Christian Action:
Please contact your state Representative and Senator, asking him/her not to approve the Governor’s new gambling compact with the Cherokee by going here: http://www.votervoice.net/groups/calnc/advocacy/?issueid=26737