The US Government Doesn’s have a Master Plan for The Gambling Control
plan. All too commonly, actual results have diverged from stated intentions, at times completely surprising the decisionmakers. There are many reasons for this awkward fact. In the U.S. federalist system, use of the term “government” can easily mislead: Far from a single actor with a clear-eyed vision and unified direction, it is in fact a mix of authorities, with functions and decisionmaking divided into many levels¾federal, state, local, and others, including tribal. Each of these plays an active role in determining the shape of legalized gambling. The states have always had the primary responsibility for gambling decisions and almost certainly will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Many states, however, have delegated considerable authority to local jurisdictions, often including such key decisions as whether or not gambling will be permitted in their communities. And the federal government plays an ever-greater role: Indian gambling sprang into being as a result of federal court decisions and congressional legislation; and even the states concede that only Washington has the potential to control gambling on the Internet. And almost none of the actors coordinate their decisions with one another. The federal government did not poll the states when it authorized Indian gambling within their borders, nor have Mississippi and Louisiana¾nor, for that matter, any other state¾seen fit to adopt a common approach to gambling. In fact, rivalry and competition for investment and revenues have been far more common factors in government decisionmaking regarding gambling than have any impulses toward joint planning. Those decisions generally have been reactive, driven more by pressures of the day than by an abstract debate about the public welfare. One of the most powerful motivations has been the pursuit of revenues. It is easy to understand the impetus: Faced with stiff public resistance to tax increases as well as incessant demands for increased or improved public services from the same citizens, tax revenues from gambling can easily be portrayed as a relatively painless method of resolving this dilemma.
Lotteries and riverboat casinos offer the clearest examples of this reactive behavior on the part of legislatures. The modern history of lotteries demonstrates that when a state authorizes a lottery, inevitably citizens from neighboring states without lotteries will cross the border to purchase tickets. The apparent loss of potential tax revenues by these latter states often gives rise to demands that they institute lotteries of their own, in order to keep this money in-state, for use at home. Once any of these states installs a lottery, however, the same dynamic will assert itself in still other states further afield. This competitive ripple effect is a key reason why lotteries now exist in 37 states and the District of Columbia, with more poised to join the list. The same pattern surfaced in legislative debates regarding riverboat casinos. As the great majority of these casinos have been sited on borders with other states, they quickly gave rise to charges of one state “raiding” the pocketbooks of its neighbors. This often prompted cries in the affected states to respond by licensing their own riverboats which, when generously distributed along their own borders, in turn, often stimulated similar reactions from other states far removed from the original instigator. For both lotteries and riverboat casinos, the immediate legislative attempt to capture fleeing tax dollars created a powerful yet usually unacknowledged dynamic for the expansion of gambling. Some believe another contributing factor has been the increasing volume of political contributions from interests with an economic stake in virtually every place expansion is sought.
Critics have asserted that this legislative pursuit of revenues has occurred at the expense of consideration of the public welfare, a serious charge indeed, albeit an unproveable one. But advocates have successfully deployed many other arguments for legalizing or expanding gambling: economic development for economically depressed areas, the general promotion of business for the investment and employment opportunities it can bring with it, undermining illegal gambling and the organized crime it supports, and so forth. There is even the eminently democratic motivation of responding