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Front Page » Opinion » Quiz What Do Slot Machines And Schools Have In Common

Quiz What Do Slot Machines And Schools Have In Common

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Written by on September 30, 2004

By Michael Lewis
Floridians on Nov. 2 will vote whether to amend their state constitution to benefit seven gambling-site owners in Miami-Dade and Broward counties who are aided and abetted by two teachers’ unions.

The seven would get a shot at installing slot machines at their horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons, turning dying gambling enterprises into goldmines. Why they’re pushing this is obvious.

But why would educators get sucked in to support an effort to suck money out of the pockets of those who can least afford to gamble?

Because the gambling interests have structured their proposed amendment to offer a possible – stress that word "possible" – payoff to the state’s schools.

If Floridians amend the constitution to allow Miami-Dade and Broward voters to let tracks and frontons put the core of a casino into their dying enterprises, the ballot language reads, "the Legislature may tax slot machine revenues, and any such taxes must supplement public education funding statewide."

Based on those weasel words, the gambling folks – who have mounted their campaign under the banner "Yes for Local Control" – tell us that $438 million "conservatively" would be made available for education statewide.

How conservative is it when there’s no guarantee that our gambling-friendly legislators would enact any tax at all?

How conservative is it when there is even less guarantee that the Legislature wouldn’t pull the same bait-and-switch trick it did when Florida got the lottery in 1986 with the promise that those profits would be for education – and then used lottery funds to replace rather than add to education funds?

The parimutuel folks hang onto the word "supplement." That word, they say, means that the Legislature couldn’t just replace current educational funds. But there is no requirement in the proposed amendment to maintain education-spending levels, nor is there a prohibition of gambling taxes replacing future education-spending increases.

But why argue about whether there will be any slot machine taxes to spread around or whether they would be added revenue for schools? The fact is that gambling money should be kept as far from education as we’d keep taxes on cocaine sales.

Why in heaven’s name should we propagate vice based on the warped position that the more vice we have, the more money we’ll have to help educate the youngsters who in the future will partake of that vice – and have their pockets picked in the process?

Shame on the United Teachers of Dade for endorsing on its Web site a vote to change the state’s constitution to benefit seven parimutuel owners. The seven could then get local voters to permit baby casinos in locations that now are losing parimutuel gamblers like mad.

Florida voters have rejected casinos three times. This attempt to circumvent that proper stance would merely enrich seven businesses while doing untold local harm.

State voters, sadly, might buy into this. Only South Florida would be infected with slots, they’ll be told, but all of the state would share in any taxes.

But why do bright and educated teachers back this fallacious plan? Besides shoving education and gambling into the same crowded tent, teachers would see the bulk of any tax revenues head north, to other counties, while South Florida was infected with ever more social illnesses.

The parents of the poorest students would be dropping hard-earned dollars into machines rigged to pay out far less than they take in, assuring that the poor would get poorer and raising social spending. Local taxpayers would finance the vice of the slots’ victims.

The spokesman for this campaign, incredibly, is former state education secretary Jim Horne, who last month resigned his $232,000 post to return to Jacksonville – and is now touting the slots as being good for schools. Of course, he’s being paid to say that – an amount the slots interests won’t reveal until they have to.

You’ll be hearing more from Mr. Horne and the slots team next week, when they begin a statewide ad blitz that will cost millions for the cause of education – "educating" us why seven businesses should profit by untold millions at the expense of local well-being to send whatever South Florida slot taxes there may be to Tallahassee.

So far, Mr. Horne has told us that hurricanes have inflicted a tremendous blow so the state needs money, which is true, and that slot machines are good for education, which is false. That’s a grade of 50%, Mr. Horne, which is not passing in any school not licensed as a casino.

Neither is any linkage of gambling and education.

The state’s constitution rightly forbids casino gambling. Florida voters should not be suckered into giving just Miami-Dade and Broward the power to harm their residents with legalized slot machines. Once the door is opened a crack, the other counties could be next.

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