E.M. Fox of Springfield, Va., has done a tremendous amount of research on gambling. Some of his findings may be of interest to those who will vote on the gambling issue today.
Inasmuch as Maryland's gambling revenues are so frequently held up as an example for the District of Columbia, Fox took a close look at what's been going on in Maryland. He says that in the first five years after the state began its lottery in 1973, its total gambling revenues (horse racing taxes as well as lottery profits) increased by $116 million.
Nevertheless, he says, "the state government was $2,368 million deeper in debt in 1978 than it was in 1972. This raises some questions. To what degree was gambling responsible for the need to spend $257 million more for public welfare in 1978 than in 1972? To what degree was gambling responsible for the 26 percent jump in the crime rate, despite an increase of $111 million for state and local police protection?"
I have not attmepted to audit the computations that went into Fox's grand totals. However, after skimming through his supporting documents I am of the opinion that his numbers are accurate. Read 'em and weep -- or, if you prefer, read them and put your own interpretation on them.
For example, at least part of the increased cost of police protection must have been caused by inflation and cost-of-living wage increases rather than by the hiring of more people. Welfare expenditures may also have risen because the 1978 dollar bought less food as well as because more people needed welfare help after they began to gamble more.
I feel certain that increased use of narcotics also plays a role in pushing up crime figures and police and welfare costs. But I doubt whether anybody in or out of government can put firm dollar values on these items.
I think the questions District Liner Fox has raised deserve study and more skillful analysis than I can give them. It's too bad there's no time for that analysis now. We'll have to vote without it.
When a controversial issue involving millions of dollars is up for decision, there is great temptation to use every argument or statistic that can be presented in a favorable light, even if the truth does get bent out of shape in the process. The gambling lobby has been quite good at this. It argued its case eloquently and fuzzed over the serious flaws in its proposal as best it could. However, I think those of us who are opposed to the proposal should be more restrained in our statements and claims, and that's why I noted that more than one interpretation can be given to the statistics Fox cited.
I happen to think it is improper for governments to be in the gambling business.
For that reason, I hope Washington's residents vote against legalized gambling today.
I think the proper way to cope with the cost of government is forthrightly.
We should make a conscious decision whether we prefer to pay more in taxes in order to maintain present programs and expenditures, or whether we want to hold taxes in check by cutting programs and expenditures.
A government that refuses to face hard decisions is irresponsible. Hoping to strike it rich on gambling ventures is a cop-out.