Last Tuesday, Mainers rejected a ballot measure by a margin of 83 to 17 percent, that would have allowed multimillionaire Shawn Scott, an executive of Northern Mariana Islands-based Bridge Capital, a license to operate a casino in York County. The corporate-funded campaign for this casino promised jobs and benefits education through tax revenue provided by the casino’s operations.
Surely we all favor more educational opportunities for students, and the rights of our neighbors to earn a decent living. But there was a reason Mainers overwhelmingly rejected this proposal. Many saw through it and recognized that it was clearly a ploy by Scott to expand his profits.
But even if a casino license in York County were to be sold through an auction, it would have negative consequences for working-class Mainers. Let’s think of the demographics of those who gamble in general. These people aren’t necessarily the one percent. In fact, Politifact reported that people with incomes of $35,000 to $100,000 per annum are people who are most likely to visit casinos, and those with incomes less than $35,000 a year are more likely to be gambling addicts than those in other social classes. And in my own experience, the only time I’ve ever heard adults seriously talking about playing the lottery was when I had a summer job in Pittsburgh. The reason they wanted to play the lottery was quite clear to me, they wanted a better deal in life than to work eight hours a day not getting paid very well.
Some might say that the casino might afford people the opportunity to increase their standard of living if they win. That is only true for an extremely small minority of cases. The vast majority of working class people lose significant amounts of money when they play at the casino. And where does this money go? Into the casino’s profits.
Now it’s this profit that would be taxed by the state. The cash obtained from working-class people would have funded things like better education. Therefore it should be plain to all that casinos and lotteries are taxes, taxes that are levied on the wrong people.
We want better education, we want better infrastructure, we want Medicaid expansion. But, of course, we have to pay for these things. A casino is not the only option Mainers have. It’s possible to get this essential funding by taxing the top one percent so working-class people don’t lose money that they might need in the future on a slot machine.
But we will have to go farther than that. We must ask ourselves this question: Why do people feel the need to waste their money on casinos and the lottery? We live in a money-obsessed society. In the United States, economic mobility is overestimated by many Americans, making it hard for working people to significantly increase their income in their everyday lives. This is what drives people to casinos, to give them a better hand in life. In addition to that, the economic system that we live under incentivizes employers to keep wages and salaries as low as possible to increase profitability. This leads to people coming under economic stress, which helps to explain the frequency of gambling addiction. If we want to make sure that nobody feels the need to buy a lottery ticket or to set foot in a casino, we need to create a new economic system that is based on meeting the needs of people, not profit.