There’s a news item out today about a ballot initiative allowing slot machines in Maryland. Apparently AFSCME and the Maryland State Teachers’ Association, two very lage public-sector unions, have donated or announced their support for the measure, citing gambling revenues as a way to recapture money that is currently being spent in other states and bolster the budget in the face of coming economic hardships. AFSCME donated $500,000 to a pro-slots campaign that is being criticized as an overfunded gambling-industry PR machine.
Clearly AFSCME wants to see slot gambling legalized so that budget shortfalls will be delayed or eased, protecting their jobs and salaries from the state’s chopping block. And the teachers jumped on the bandwagon because they were promised that half of the revenue would be used for education. But have either of these unions considered the social costs of gambling?
Research from the National Bureau of Economics shows that poor people bet a much larger share of their income than do the wealthy, and a study of the California lottery has shown that heavy lottery players are much more likely to be black, poorer, and less educated than the average Californian. The effects of legalizing gambling can be disastrous, with low-income families suddenly unable to provide food or clothing for their children, getting mixed up in organized crime, and sinking themselves further and further in debt to feed their addiction.
There are more responsible ways to ensure public employee job safety and educational funding than openly endorsing gambling — a destructive force often underestimated in terms of its economic and social impacts.