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March 10 & 11, 2017 at the Cedar Creek Mall

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Hope for a Dollar: A Bad Bet

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   “Where else can you buy hope for a dollar?”  I just kind of stared at the person who said that to me in a conversation about gambling. “That’s really what people say about gambling?” I asked in disbelief.   At first I wanted to scoff at the stupidity of the idea; but quickly I was saddened as I realized how easily people sell not only their dollars but almost their souls for some hope.  That brief conversation was a stark wake-up call to me that we have enormous education work to do on gambling.

   Gambling is a zero-sum game.  Winner takes all; loser loses all he or she has in the game.  Gambling is indiscriminate in this win/loss setup.  Done legally, it’s no respecter of persons, whether we’re talking buying lottery tickets or playing slots or table games at a casino or falling prey to the online Daily Fantasy Sports games.  Someone wins, and someone loses.

   When you gamble a dollar, your hope is you will beat the very long-odds against you.  And of course, the house -- or the computer -- is always stacked against you. Always. Gambling wouldn’t be a multi-billion-dollar business if that weren’t true. The hope for a dollar is such sadly misplaced hope -- and it so rarely stops at one dollar. For far too many -- and this is especially true for those least able to afford to lose even a dollar -- trying to buy hope for a dollar turns into an uncontrollable addiction that ultimately destroys the individual with the gambling problem, his or her marriage and family, and dramatically impacts communities.

   Making all this worse is when states think it is a good idea to try to balance their budgets using money from gambling. Wisconsin has done it for years. This is especially evident in casino gambling. According to Wisconsin law, only Native Americans can have casinos in our state; but those 20+ casinos owned by these sovereign nations pay considerable amounts of money directly into our state coffers–a percentage of their annual profit. That money then funds various programs the state runs. If you think about that, it’s pretty clear that it is in the state’s best interest financially to encourage and expand gambling. More profits for the tribes; more money for the state.  Of course, once again, that money is largely from citizens who, thinking they are buying hope for a dollar, are least able to afford to risk that dollar in a zero-sum game and can certainly not afford to become problem or pathological gamblers.

   Some will argue the state lottery is different -- that the state doesn’t use that money to balance the budget.  Technically, money that comes in from the sale of lottery tickets in The Badger State, at least a portion of it, goes to property owners as a property tax credit -- which is on average about $110 per property owner per year. It’s part of the state’s way of keeping citizens from squawking about their property taxes. In addition, at least one report shows the state still relies on lottery revenues for about 1% of the budget, which admittedly is much less than in states such as Wyoming, Florida or Georgia, where that number ranges from 4.2 to 6.6%. Here again, however, the majority of people deluded into thinking they are buying hope for a dollar lottery ticket can ill afford that expense.

   Given this sad scenario, Wisconsin should not expand gambling in any way, shape or form. But the temptation to do just that is growing. The Ho-Chunk are right now expanding an ancillary casino in Shawano County.  It comes with increased slots, high-limit gambling, a hotel, bar and restaurant. Rumor is a bill that would legalize and regulate online Daily Fantasy Sports betting will be back this session.  Should it pass, it will legalize online gambling in Wisconsin for the first time in our history and will pave the way for the tribes and others to get in on turning every smart phone, tablet, laptop and desktop computer in the state into a casino.  Meanwhile, the Ho-Chunk are also pushing to open a new casino in Beloit. This would be the first off-reservation casino of its kind in Wisconsin. The tribe is waiting for the federal government to approve its application any day now. Once that happens, then it falls on Governor Walker to either approve or reject it.

   Wisconsin needs to reject all these ideas for expanding gambling -- for the sake of its citizens. Hope can’t be bought by gambling even a dollar. Real hope comes from working hard, planning, saving, and being disciplined -- whether you are an individual or a state. Gambling is one of the surest ways I know to dash hopes and forfeit futures.

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