Casinos not an economic salvo

Published 6:30 pm Tuesday, March 10, 2020

short rows headerVirginia seems hell-bent to have casinos. I hope it’s all that its cracked up to be.


If I sound skeptical, it’s because I am. Personally, I think one of the great legislative mistakes of our time was allowing Native Americans to use the “sovereignty” bestowed on them by Uncle Sam to open casinos in states that otherwise did not otherwise allow the gambling facilities.

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It is true that some Indian tribes have become wealthy from casino ownership, but it’s also true that some have found that it’s their investment partners who garner the bulk of the wealth.

But my complaint is that the use of Native American sovereignty to open casinos removed the right to approve — or disapprove — casino gambling from the residents of the states involved.

It was the desire of the newly-recognized Pamunkey Tribe to open a casino that brought the matter to a head in Virginia. In order to recapture some control, the General Assembly took up the question of casino gambling and decided to support it on a broader basis aimed at overcoming community economic depression. It was probably the right decision, given the apparent futility of fighting the tribal “sovereign” right to abet gambling.

Senator Louise Lucas had been pushing for a casino as a way out of poverty for her native Portsmouth for years and, when the Pamunkey plan emerged, it was like a dam had been breached. Other economically-stressed communities joined in, and the General Assembly decided that, if there were going to be casinos, they should be based on community economic need.

The legislation that emerged this session will give local voters the final say in whether to allow casinos to be placed in Portsmouth, Norfolk, Richmond, Bristol and Danville.

Economic development was, of course, what led to construction of the Colonial Downs horse racing facility on the Peninsula years ago. After failing financially, that facility closed and only recently reopened, financially buttressed by off-track betting parlors.

As long as people dream of sudden riches, they will support gambling. It has made the Virginia Lottery a popular pastime, especially for the state’s poorest residents, who hope the tickets purchased with their next hard-earned paycheck will be the 10-million-to-one payoff for them and their families.

The truth, of course, is that at both the Lottery and the casinos, the deck is stacked against gamblers. Sure, there are professionals who can win at the blackjack table, but the real winners are the owners who make sure the payout never comes close to the input. For every professional who knows how to “play the cards,” there are dozens of everyday folk who generously donate their hard-earned money to the casino investors.

Sports gambling

While they were at it, the Virginia lawmakers decided to allow online betting for professional sports. The logic was simple. With a state-sponsored lottery, off-track gambling for horseraces and a plan for multiple casino projects, why not legalize betting on professional football, baseball or other sports?

Interestingly, House of Delegates purists drew the line at gambling on college sports. That’s still banned in the bill that emerged. After all, Virginians wouldn’t want to sully the reputation of our major state universities by having people cast bets on their purely “amateur” football teams, would we?