Evans Says State-Sanctioned Gambling Is "Change We Can Believe In"

In a recent column, http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/39129332.html, in the Daily News Philadelphia's Dwight Evans made an outrageous comment.


When I point out to House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans that in the past he was never a fan of funding government through gambling, he says, "People change. We're living in a time of change we can believe in."

So the election of Barack Obama is being used to justify the expansion of state-sanctioned gambling by one of the most powerful Philadelphia pols in our state. This is great. We have Rendell touring the state touting more regressive forms of taxation-this time video poker, and Evans, the House Appropriations Chair abandoning his past opposition to state-sanctioned gambling and justifying it by twisting Obama's campaign slogan. Rather than harnessing the energy that was created by Obama's campaign to advance real change based on a politics of hope we have in Philadelphia politicians who practice their own form of a politics of fear that legitimizes taxation by exploitation-the proposed casinos and video poker.

I don't believe that Obama's victory signals that government should promote slots and video poker as a way to raise revenue. This is a time for everyone to stand up for what they believe in and if you believe in everyone paying their fair share it is time to say so and stand against regressive forms of taxation. The proposed casinos and proposed massive expansion of state-sanction gambling through video poker machines into everyones' neighborhoods are two significant forms of regressive taxation that will harm our city our state and our fellow citizens.

That our government would spend time developing such schemes and promoting harmful and costly forms of addiction rather than promoting savings and thrift is bad public policy. And that any taxpayer would accept the exploitation of their fellow citizens so that they don't have to pay their fair share is the kind of change that needs to be challenged and reversed.

Don't forget the state's push to expand

to table games as well. It was incredibly disappointing to hear that state officials were speaking at a breakfast around education funding about the need for education advocates to get behind the idea of video pokermachines. The rationale was that, the money is already going to the bad guys, why not give it to the good guys?

One person in the room apparently challenged state officials, someone who inquired about how education advocates can back something when it's children that pay the most for the cost of gambling addiction and depleted revenue from the homes.

Lately I've been wondering about the manipulation of the economic crisis and local "Shock Doctrine"-esque fallout.

And, no, I am not of the camp that doesn't believe that there's an economic crisis, but people also know that any crisis results in major realignment of priorities and values. And gambling expansion as well as the theory of free money is one which is being pushed as far as the state can go here.

State-sponsored predatory gambling is antithetical to democracy

Here is a good video about how state-sponsored predatory gambling is antithetical to democracy. I hope all state legislators who voted for Act 71 and who are considering voting for video poker get a chance to see this video.

To me, "change we believe in" means that our government corrects its past mistakes and pledges to do better in the future; moreover, the phrase means that we as citizens educate and empower ourselves to demand that our government does so.

Branch Equates Gambling With Uncontrolled Federal Debt

It is interesting that Branch equates "state sponsored predatory gambling" with uncontrolled federal deficit spending, in that both lead to an avoidance of financial burdens on many citizens and the passing of financial burdens on to others.

Branch's speech does not say, however, whether he favors tax increases or spending cuts, or some combination of both, to either balance the federal budget or balance state budgets without gambling revenues.

Branch's attack on the years since New Hampshire started state-run gambling in the early 1970's ignores the achievements of these years: the dramatic reduction of poverty among senior citizens; the steady rise of education levels and the steady reduction of illiteracy; the lessening hold of many diseases on our citizens, and the steady increase in life expectancy; the virtual end of legally mandated discrimination against women, and the dramatic increase in freedom and opportunity enjoyed by women today; the end of the military draft and the dramatic reduction of the role of the military in American daily life; the rise of American blacks from an overwhelmingly impoverished group of citizens to an increasingly middle-class existence with opportunities far beyond the imagination of many civil rights protestors; the dramatic reduction in the demonization of intellectual inquiry and intellectuals themselves; the end of widespread official tolerance towards rape,sexual abuse, and addiction to alcohol and/or tobacco; the steady conversion of the search for alternative energy from a fringe position into the mainstream of both political parties; the rise of movements for equality for both gays and the disabled, and a long list of achievements in the direction of equality for both; the rise of people of Asian and Latino descent from despised outsiders to full citizenship; and so forth.

With the role of government drastically expanding to achieve far more than was thought possible at the 1968 Democratic National Convention (like Taylor Branch, I was there too, suppporting drafting Ted Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy's nomination when the Ted Kennedy draft effort ended) comes the urgent question of how the great expansion of governmental effort nationally and in every state is to be paid for.

Loads of people lobby for tax cuts; in 35 years in the state legislature, I have no recollection of meeting a person who came to Harrisburg from Philadelphia to lobby for tax increases; people just lobby for more spending.

Occasionally, I have heard affluent people say they have no problem with raising their own taxes, but this admission has generally been part of a discussion of why they are supporting an anti-tax candidate or a political position of lower taxes.

Stan Shapiro and Ray Murphy have made clear on this site that they think that tax increases are a lesser evil compared to the alternatives; Dan UA has come out against further tax cuts; Stan Shapiro and Marc Stier have come out for state expansion of Philadelphia taxing authority; many more such voices are needed here and around our state and country if the goal of greater personal responsibility for governmental decisions that Branch eloquently articulates is to be met in our time.

Getting real

Mark, it's great that you engage on this site and use it to promote progressive values. But I would say progressive is as progressive does. It's past time for theorizing or wondering what people want. It's time for deciding. And what needs to be decided is whether state government -- of which you are a leader -- will help the City of Philadelphia avoid ruin.

I know that you think the City is not in as bad shape as the Mayor claims. However under the Charter, as you know, the City's revenue is whatever the Mayor says it is. And if he's determined not to spend up to the needs of the City, he can do so. And even if he can't close libraries anymore, he can starve them.

According to the Mayor -- the only voter who counts -- the City is $200 million short of balance as we enter the next fiscal year. We are not going to collect that in higher rates of existing taxes. It just won't happen. So unless the state or federal government steps up, in some fashion or other, people in this City are going to suffer. They will suffer either because their libraries, rec centers, health centers will have been closed or their services will have been reduced, because fire stations and police services will have been lessened, or because their City jobs will have disappeared.

The state legislature cannot be deemed an innocent bystander in all of this. It has sharply limited the City's powers to tax, and vastly undersupported it with revenue. The Mayor has already asked for one legislative change, relating to pension fund payments. You should sponsor others, such as allowing the City to tax banks and insurance companies at the same rate as the local dry cleaner, and by allowing the City to tax unearned income. Of course, you should also insist that the state budget include money for the City courts. If you don't do these things, Mark, you are not simply an observer of what the state can or cannot reasonably be expected to do; you will be a major enabler of what the state does or fails to do.

And that's getting real.

And When The Banks and the Insurance Companies Lobby Against?

And when the banks and the insurance companies lobby against it, who will lobby for it?

Will Mayor Nutter back it?

Will any member of City Council back it?

Will any labor union back it?

And if they will in the future, why have they not in the past?

Why don't you propose them, Mark and find out.

File the bills, hold a press conference, write your colleagues, the Mayor and the Governor seeking support, and see what happens. And, if nothing happens, at least you will done the right thing.

I Think It Is Obvious That There Is No Support

I think it is obvious that there is no widespread support for increasing taxes on banks and insurance companies in the wake of billions of federal dollars of subsidies for them to be signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday in Denver.

It is also obvious that there has been a long term reduction in the number of banks and insurance companies headquartered in Philadelphia, and a corresponding dramatic reduction in the number of bank branches in Philadelphia.

The lack of bank branches offering standard free or low cost checking accounts has led many people to rely on payday lending and other schemes--such as immediate payment for tax refunds, and cashing paychecks--that charge exorbitant interest rates for services that banks either give for free or charge nominal rates for.

It is not my mission in life to grandstand for impossible things. Nor is it my mission in life to further reduce the number of bank branches serving my constituents, or to give the Republican party further help in raising campaign funds.

If people are serious about organizing for progressive change, I am a good ally of proven value in many struggles.

But if people just want to show that there is intellectual ground to the left of the Democratic Party, I will concede that obvious fact.

Anyone who does not have the burden of organizing a majority coalition in a moderate to conservative state with a very tenuous margin in the state house can carve out positions to the left of the Democratic Party's on numerous issues to justify primary challenges or third party candidacies, for personal satisfaction, or any other motive.

With a tip of the hat to Paul Boni, with whom I agree totally

I have to reply to this post.

First, to the suggestion that no one wants to tax banks, no, actually most people would like to tar and feather them heavily. But taxing them is the best proxy people will get for that, and I'm sure, if a poll were taken there would be the overwhelming support for taxing them. Especially if it were pointed out that currently they are among the few industries in Philadelphia that pay almost no tax.

Are you saying that we shouldn't tax banks and insurance commpanies equally with other industries because that will drive them from Philadelphia? That is not just moderate Democratic talk, Mark, that is a right wing talking point. Taken to its logical conclusion, there is no industry that we should tax because they've all been fleeing Philadelphia. Are you in the "Repeal the BPT" at all costs contingent? If not, what other industries need protection, or is it just banks and insurance companies? Why not supermarkets, for instance, or all manufacturers? And after we protect them, how do we make up for the lost income?

And, btw, Mark, I thought you were a great defender of Home Rule. Then why can't you let our poor benighted City Council and Mayor decide whether they agree with you on the need to give special tender loving care to our banks and insurance companies?

You've also ignored my other suggestions. Let Philadelphia tax unearned income on the same base as the State, and, according to my calculations, that would bring in $38 million a year. That's another Home Rule issue. And you should organize the Philly delegation to demand payment for our Court costs as a condition to passage of the budget.

There is serious organizing going on around these things, Marc, as I'm sure you know. The Mayor has even come out for the last one I mentioned. What's discouraging is that we keep hearing self-fulfilling prophecies from elected leaders like you that our suggestions aren't going anywhere. Well, they would go somewhere if people in power, like yourself, would get out of the prediction business, and get into the advocating business.

Your commentaries here are great, Mark, but what we need from you is getting the state to lift at least one little finger to help the City avoid the catastrophe that's coming.

Have Council Pass A Resolution Saying They Want To Tax Banks

Stan, have Council pass a resolution saying they want to tax banks and insurance companies. It's out of this world to argue for home rule and a position not supported publicly by a single organization in Philadelphia.

Stan, have Mayor Nutter say he wants to tax banks and insurance companies.

The state legislature is not some vast independent power that will-nilly passes laws affecting the city of Philadelphia.

What Philadelphians in significant numbers ask the legislature to do affecting Philadelphia is, more often than not, what the legislature does.

A good way to begin lobbying the legislature is to lobby the mayor, the City Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the AFL-CIO, and other politically significant organizations within Philadelphia.

For years, I pushed to allow the City to raise its fines from $300 a day to a higher amount. They were set at $300 a day when $300 was worth over $3000 in today's money. Finally, with the support of the city's lobbyists, the maximum allowable fines were raised to $600 per day. The city has taken no action at all to tap this obvious source of revenue.

Right. Surely, if


Surely, if Philadelphia passes a law that regulates the banking sector, with the support of every single member of council, and the support of the ed boards and the AFL-CIO, the State will accept it. Right?


The state legislature, as a whole, with a Republican majority in the House and a Republican governor, did overrule the city Council on predatory lending. I voted against, and spoke against on the House floor, this effort to overrule the City of Philadelphia.

We now have a thin Democratic majority (104-99) and a Democratic governor and a history of national international financial mismanagement, so circumstances are somewhat different today.

However, the banking lobby obviously still has a lot of influence in Harrisburg, as does the insurance lobby, which is one reason I think talk of taxation of them is pursuing the longest of longshots.

But those who seem to passionately want this taxation should organize in Philadelphia for it. While organization is absolutely no guarantee that anything controversial will happen, failure to organize for controversial goals opposed by powerful interests absolutely guarantees that they will not happen.

You did. But the effort

You did.

But the effort was led by our then two most powerful members, correct?

Evans, Perzel, and Fumo Supported Banning City Regulation

As DanUA well knows, Dwight Evans, then minority appropriations chair in the House, and John Perzel, then majority leader in the House, and Vince Fumo, then minority appropriations chair in the Senate, supported overruling the City of Philadelphia in 2001.

Just how is "grandstanding" defined, Mark?

Jim Kenney called Councilman Green's advocacy for keeping the library branches open "grandstanding." When I asked Wilson Goode why, given the support his constituency had expressed for keeping the branches open, he wasn't providing leadership on that issue, he said to do so would be "grandstanding." When I asked him to explain how he differentiated grandstanding from fulfilling his responsibilities as a representative of his community, he declined to answer. Just when does advocating good policies and standing up to vested power structures cross over from doing your job to grandstanding? When is calling policy advocacy grandstanding simply an excuse for a citizen representative to avoid standing up to powerful political entities?

As I see it, your job is to advocate policies on the basis of what your constituents want. You raise good points about potential unintended consequences from taxing banks and insurance companies, but I'd venture to guess that if asked, most of your constituents would agree with Stan, and would choose to have banks and insurance companies taxed like other businesses and thereby reduce the number of important services that will be cut. As I see it, if you determined that your constituents would support such policies and then worked hard at rallying that support, regardless of what you feel is the likely outcome, you'd be doing your job, not grandstanding.

Rather than dismiss Stan's ideas outright, maybe you should go to your constituents, educate them about different policies and potential outcomes, and then act according to their input?

I Define Grandstanding As Advocating Things That Have No Chance

I define grandstanding as advocating things that have no chance of passage, where advocacy creates a false hope that something is likely to happen.

Certainly, we all would like someone else to pay more taxes, and ourselves to pay less taxes, but it is clearly the view of Congress, the White House, and majorities of both houses of the state legislature that there is a public interest in not taxing real estate owned by banks and insurance companies, and some other ways they generate income.

The White House of the Bush and Obama Administrations and Congress are throwing many billions of dollars at the banks and insurance companies to bail them out, without any objection from Philadelphians of which I am aware.

Yes, the failure of Pennsylvania to fully tax banks and insurance companies is a tax loophole. Other tax loopholes include the non-taxation by the state or city of pensions, no matter how large they are; the non-taxation of clothing purchased, no matter expensive the items of clothing are; the non-taxation of out of state corporate income, which there is a lot of legislative support to remedy; the non-taxation of Pennsylvania municipal bonds, no much money one earns from them; the non-taxation of money held in a retirement account, no matter how much is earned; the non-taxation of property inherited from spouses, no matter how much it is worth; and numerous others.

The obstacle to more progressive taxation of any kind does not lie in my legislative district. It lies among the many people earning far more than the vast majority of my constituents do, some of whom participate in young philly politics, phillyblog, and many kinds of other community forums.

I define grandstanding as

I define grandstanding as advocating things that have no point, or only exist to further the popularity of the person speaking.

Speaking for the powerless, however, even if a law has no chance of passing, is far from grandstanding in my book.

Mark, you do realize that this quote

I define grandstanding as advocating things that have no chance of passage, where advocacy creates a false hope that something is likely to happen.

is essentially exactly what Kenney said about Green's advocacy on the library branch issue, don't you?

I'm not buying the "false hopes" response. It's condescending. Your constituents are smart enough to realistically assess the chances of a policy getting enacted. Once again, I think that your job is to educate your constituents and then act in accordance with their wishes - not to determine for them which policies should be supported on the basis of their likelihood of getting enacted.

The fact that the Bush and Obama administrations are/have thrown money at banks doesn't in any way lead me to conclude that your constituents wouldn't support a change in local tax policy if it would lead to fewer of their local government services being cut.

I don't disagree with you about where the obstacles reside, nor do I minimize the size of those obstacles, but I see this as an issue of you fulfilling your responsibilities as a citizen representative - just as I did with Kenney and Goode on the library branch issues. Again, they both called what Green was doing "grandstanding." As I saw it, they were abdicating their responsibility as a citizen representative because they were either (1) wrongly assessing the chances of a particular policy becoming a reality, or (2) selling out their constituents to powerful political entities, or some combination thereof.

I Am Accountable For Spending My Time

I am accountable for spending my time doing things that have some ultimate chance of success. I have repeatedly gone out on a limb: in recent years pushing increases for the minimum wage, the nomination of Barack Obama, and a lawsuit to stop the closing of the libraries. In all of these efforts, I thought the conventional wisdom of their impossibility was wrong.

I do not believe on February 15,2009 at 1:49 p.m. that it is at all possible to increase taxation on banks and insurance companies in Pennsylvania my lifetime or the lifetime of any living Philadelphian.

If someone wishes me to change my mind on that, then do something that shows that there is real public demand for this. Passive support among people who want to shift their tax burden elsewhere is not going to make any difference with the Pennsylvania legislature.

Doing something that is meaningful certainly includes many hundreds of times more work and expenditure of funds than holding a meeting, but holding a meeting among those who favor it is a good place to start. If my schedule permits, I would be glad to come to such a meeting.

Let's not play politics, let's advocate for good public policy

This thread has strayed from the original post, though there are some themes that have remained relevant.

Let's be clear about Act 71 (the Gaming Act). Its passage could not have occurred without the support of the Philadelphia legislators. If the Philadelphia legislators voted "no", Act 71 would not have passed in either the House or the Senate. If I am wrong about this, please let me know.

So as to Act 71, this is not a matter of advocating for something "impossible", organizing for progressive change or even about whether there are good ideas to the left of the Democratic Party in a moderate to conservative state. I realize these comments were of course not meant to describe what happened with Act 71 but I think it's important to point that out. The legalization of slots is a matter in which our own Philly legislators voted in favor of a law that, if not changed, will bring much damage to our fellow Philadelphians, including those, including some of us, who never set foot in the slots parlors.

In any event, I hope future posts will stick to the title of this thread. Namely, whether the political wave that carried Obama into the White House (captured in the phrase "change we can believe in") is something that should be used to justify the legalization of Video Poker in our communities, as Representative Evans asserts. I think it is reprehensible.

The Governor's proposal about video poker presents a great opportunity to progressive legislators from Philadelphia. Those elected officials should hold public hearings in Philadelphia (during the evenings or on the weekend) so that the public can testify about Video Poker. Let's not just determine the benefits but let us determine the costs, too.

Here is a press release calling for legislative hearings; it contains links to the Inquirer editorial and to WHYY Radio:

And, here is a great video about the costs incurred by those who will never gamble:

The sad thing about Evans

I always found Dwight Evans to be an extremely bright, admirable man, with a single blind spot: his affection for gambling as a fund raising method.

All the evidence is incontestable: legalized gambling is a regressive tax on the poor. So, using gambling to fund the schools- as Evans has advocated doing in the past- would work out to be a transfer tax from the poor... to the poor. Not all that effective, I should think.

Gambling, alcohol taxes, and tobacco taxes do have one appealing element: they are, to an extent, voluntary. Given that nobody is forcing anyone to smoke, drink, or gamble, this does make taxes on such activities avoidable and, therefore, voluntary. This does not lessen the fact, though, that gambling, especially, tends to take money from the poor at a far higher percentage of their income than for the rich.

I really admire Evans' efforts to bring West Oak Lane back to the way it was when my Mom was growing up there; it is, once again, a relatively stable, middle-class neighborhood. This is, in my mind, an unalloyed good thing, and reason for me to be grateful to Evans. But his enthusiasm for gambling reduces my admiration considerably.


All Taxation of Consumers Generally Shields Most Affluent.

All taxation of consumers--not just legalized gambling--shields the most affluent. It has long been the case that people of less than earthshaking income identify more with the wealthy than they do with those below them on the income ladder. It is unclear whether the current recession will change that.

Former Eagles owner Leonard Tose, and former Secretary of Education William Bennett, are two rare examples of millionaires who lost millions due to excessive gambling. Tose, for a while, reduced himself to poverty and then gradually climbed out of it to a modest existence.

All of which is why the so

All of which is why the so called 'Fair Tax'- which would replace the progressive income tax w/a national VAT- is fundamentally regressive, and therefore wildly popular among the money-con wing of the GOP.

First against the wall when the revolution they so clearly desire comes,

Well he'll get to see gambling come to West Oak Lane

Which is why I honestly have mixed feelings about this bill. The one mildly positive thing I can say about it is that it will make all of Pennsylvania see the downside of gambling and not just the tax revenue up front and personal, in every neighborhood, in every town, in every suburban borough. It will definitely hit recently stable again neighborhoods harder, as "transitional" neighborhoods as they like to say are the most vulnerable to whats supposed to be modern gambling's most addictive form. They are often neighborhoods with a slightly higher than average number of corner taverns, neighborhoods where for us after hour drinkers the owners are most willing to bend PLCB rules, neighborhoods which often have a history of struggling with bad operators of one or two stand-out "nuisance bars".

Dwight will get to see how gambling effects the dynamics between neighborhood organizations and "nuisance bars", now with a new profit source and built-in clientel anxious to keep the bar going full-swing at all hours. And he will get to see it up close and personal.

Thats honestly my biggest concern with this. I think if you are going to legalize gambling, at a certain level, its only fair that everybody share the social burden, all across the state, every community. My concern is that state government has an absolutely awful record in terms of enforcement against bad neighborhood nuisance bars and corner take-outs that become drug hotspots and staging grounds for neighborhood beefs that turn to real violence in the neighborhoods.

And I suspect West Oak Lane is exactly the type of neighborhood that will see how the pre-existing problems with state enforcement of clearly stated rules of operation and hours from the PLCB at "nuisance bars" and bad take-outs are amplified with the introduction of video poker machines. That neighborhood groups will see their points of leverage against neighborhood bars that don't take responsiblity for fights that spill out into the nieghborhood around them or side drug business that sprouts up around the periphery of their operations weakened when many of the bad tavern owners (which are the minority) que up to be the first in line for video poker and a potentially big new revenue source.

I suspect that Dwight's neighborhood will get a dramatic wake-up call on that front and it seems to me that the social costs for legislators looking for "free taxes" can only come home so like kids with a hot stove they have to burn their hands to learn the stove is hot. I think video poker in every bar and in particular enforcement by some of the same agencies that do such a crap job with corner take-outs and neighborhood nuisance bars currently has some big unconsidered downsides for neighborhood's like Dwight's. Unfortunately, also for neighborhoods like mine, as well.

A couple of years ago I had a meal with Rep. Cohen at the White Dog and one of the things that struck me (besides greatly appreciating the meal he mostly picked up the tab for) was that when I asked him about why state enforcement fails so badly when it comes to certain take-outs and nuisance bars, "why doesn't it work?" was that he said flatly "it does" which I don't think anyone who has worked at the neighborhood civic level in urban Philly neighborhoods would agree with. Sadly I think video poker in "transitional" neighborhoods has the potential to excerbate the problems Mark didn't acknowledge. I only hope that those problems become more apparent that Rep. Evans and Rep. Cohen see fit to finally accurately address fixing them.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

A couple of quotes from an old article

You know the tide has turned against video gambling when Doug Jennings announces it's time to throw it out of his state. The South Carolina legislator, a lawyer and popular fourth-term Democrat, had backed the video-machine operators ever since he took office in 1991; after all, they helped keep many small businesses alive in his rural, job-starved district skirting the North Carolina border. But this year Jennings listened to another part of his constituency, spouses and children of addicted gamblers who begged him to back a bill banning the machines.

Local tales of woe abound: there's the service-station owner who got rid of his after watching a neighbor lose his house and his car; or the young pizza-franchise manager in a neighboring county who has a criminal record after feeding the machines for weeks with his store's cash. "People have been losing their homes, their cars. Families are breaking up," said Jennings. "I had a client tell me, 'I want you to ban these things. I'm hooked, and the only way I can get away from them is if you take them away.'" So when a group of poker-machine operators visited him not once but twice this year and threatened to punish his political turnabout by financing a primary opponent, Jennings didn't budge. In his re-election bid, he faces Marlboro County coroner Tim Brown, who has hired one of the state's top-drawer consultants to run ads hammering Jennings for his vote.

Four years ago, a statewide referendum in South Carolina showed lopsided support for video gambling. But in a survey conducted by the Mason-Dixon polling firm last December, 47% of respondents said video gaming should be done away with and an additional 24% said they favored regulating it more tightly. Contributing to this mood shift is a growing collection of tragedies, such as the death last August of the 10-day-old daughter of Army Sergeant Julius Baker and his wife Gail; the baby was left in the sweltering family car for several hours while Gail played video poker in Jasper County.

In Las Vegas--yes, Las Vegas--Mayor Jan Jones has asked a panel to consider removing slot and video-poker machines from neighborhood businesses.

Professionals who specialize in gambling addiction agree that video poker provides an exceptionally fast track to addiction. Among the 5% of all gamblers who develop a problem, it takes those who bet on horses 20 years to "hit bottom," as Gamblers Anonymous puts it. By contrast, video gamblers get to that stage in just over two years. Why? Video poker has in spades the qualities that make up the addictive "power" of a game, according to Las Vegas clinical psychologist Robert Hunter: speed (a good player can go through as many as 12 hands a minute); the built-in ability to keep playing (many video-poker outlets are open 24 hours, and it's not unusual to hear of someone's playing 36 hours straight); the perception that skill is involved (largely false, Hunter says); and the game's hypnotizing effect. "It's like a trip to the twilight zone," says Hunter.


I had heard the "crack of gambling addiction" angle before but it was the first I had read of the mayor of Las Vegas seeking to limit the deployment of video poker into neighborhood establishments. Pretty interesting, I think.

MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Is There Any Tax You Pay That You Would Support Raising?

If legalizing of video poker, which already exists illegally throughout the state, is a terrible evil that should be avoided at all costs, is there any tax you pay that you would support raising?

Is there anything you don't pay taxes on, but would be willing to pay taxes on?

A number of us have identified taxes that we'd pay more of

but apparently you haven't been paying attention. That fact is also demonstrated by your notion that banks and insurance companies are popular with ordinary voters, a fact allegedly proven by the bailout. Most of us are aware, in reality, that there was an overwhelming public protest against the bailout which caused it to be defeated in the House of Reps the first time it was proposed. It passed finally despite public outrage, not due to popular acclaim. Here's the truth: People hate banks! And insurance companies! And brokerage firms! They want them to pay up!

I'm giving up in this forum trying to persuade you. Hopefully you will notice in coming weeks that people are willing to do a lot of things they might not otherwise do to protect City services. However, if you fail to notice, that will not really be a big deal. But if the libraries wind up starved -- and the health centers and the rec centers too -- and you and your colleagues will have done nothing to find revenue for the City of Philadelphia, shame on you and shame on the whole Philly delegation.

What Bank Do Own? What Insurance Company Do You Own?

Anyone can favor other people paying more taxes. That is like the favoring of closing other people's libraries, other people's swimming pools, or other people's schools. It is not tremendously persuasive as a demonstration of one's values.

The final votes on taxes and spending are not going to occur in the next few days or next few weeks. They probably will occur sometime in July or August.

Taxing banks and insurance companies will inevitably lead to higher costs for consumers of banking and insurance services. These will be extra costs for the average citizen.

Please refresh my memory. What state taxes do you pay that you would favor paying more of to avert expanded legalized gambling, spending cuts, and failure to provide significantly more money to Philadephia?

Your responsibility is not to me; it's to your constituents

so what I am personally willing to pay is completely irrelevant. I'll pay whatever taxes the legislature in its wisdom chooses to impose that apply to me. You've been elected to choose, not me. I don't think your constituents want you to find out what increases in his own taxes Stan Shapiro favors paying before you exercise your legislative powers to save their services.

Nor do I believe your constituents elected you to lecture others on their responsibility to organize themselves in some unspecified manner, and to some unspecified degree, before you would act to protect them from what's coming. But if you want to continue shifting your responsibility to others while Philadelphia burns, so be it.

My Constitutents Did Not Elect Me To Talk To Stan Shapiro

I talk to you because I have respect for you and value what you have to say. You don't have to do anything. Nobody has to do anything. But I cannot be an effective leader of a movement that does not exist, for goals that take on long-established policies without anyone willing to do any work to achieve them.

Progressive change is generally a group process. Groups form when people believe goals are important to achieve, and are attainable. People believed an increased minimum wage and the maintenance of our library system were attainable goals worth working for. So a relatively small number of people did some work and achieved some results.

I personally do not believe that any significant number of people believe that taxation of banks and insurance companies is an attainable goal that people think is worth working for, so I am not advocating it. DanUA notes here in this thread the difficulty of taking on the banking and insurance lobbies, citing a case in which I was a leading voice in opposition to the banking industry, in which the legislature overwhelmingly supported the banks against the Philadelphia City Council, the Mayor's office, and the Daily News.

Banks and insurance companies have tens of thousands of employees who can be mobilized in various ways. To defeat them requires the ability to develop counter-pressure on a statewide basis. It is not easy. It takes work. It takes a belief that the work is worth doing without compensation. If that belief does not exist, then the the focus should be on other things. My questions were to see what other things, if any, people had in mind.

A word about this format: this is a site which emphasizes debate. But what is usually needed to achieve goals is not debate but cooperation. If people want to work with me or anyone else to achieve any goal, it is likely to be far more productive to talk privately over the phone or at a meeting than to debate on this or any other website.

Rep. Cohen, before the back and forth

Your comment seemed partially aimed at me, although the following back and forth I think is interesting.

There are lots of taxes I support and generally, I think progressive state-based taxes distributed more equitably statewide for things like education, transit and healthcare are exactly what the doctor ordered for some of Philadelphia's toughest problems.

Just because I pulled up an article about how a program almost exactly like the one Rendell just championed for legalizing video poker plummmetted in popularity, caused large amounts of social disruption and was was eventually overturned in the courts in South Carolina, does not mean that I categorically oppose legalizing and taxing an economic activity that already exists. I just think we need to be realistic about the social costs in our planning and I expecially think we need to look very seriously at whether the state authorities we are putting in charge of enforcing this stuff are up to the task.

I strongly suspect they are not.

The exact same argument for legalizing video poker and licensing it in neighborhood bars could be made for legalizing drug sales in corner bars. Though I doubt its politically viable to expect PA to make it legal to buy doobies in Doobies any time soon, the same questions about whether the social costs have been adequately considered and whether the enforcement capacity which occassionaly currently does a really, really crappy job with simple alchohol enforcement of an admittedly numerically few but persistantly problematic urban establishments is up to snuff.

To me thats far from being on a moral crusade against gambling but just raising basic, valid questions about sound social policy. I mean did you guys not do any critical research on the South Carolina experience of the exact same law you just just lined up behind? I just hit that article on the first page by doing a simple Google search for "gambling addiction" and "video poker". I would think that would fall well within the limits of basic legislative research. I might be wrong, it seems.
MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Have the Sales Tax Apply to Services

In response to Rep. Cohen's question, I want to see the sales tax apply to services, everything from accountants and barbers to engineers to lawyers to videographers. In a largely service based economy, this would bring in significant revenue.

Thanks For Answering The Question

I agree that taxing services would bring in significant revenue, although it also brings in significant opposition too. It certainly is something that ought to be considered if necessary.

Thanks For Answering The Question

I agree that taxing services would bring in significant revenue, although it also brings in significant opposition too. It certainly is something that ought to be considered if necessary.

Is gambling addiction "voluntary"?

A post above refers to the voluntariness of gambling. Let's explore this. To what extent is the industry reliant on addiction? I refer not to the percentage of gamblers who are addicts but to the percentage of revenue coming from addicts. Is there a state legislator willing to be curious about the true percentage?

They certainly should. Let's remember that in the case of slots parlors, the state taxes the revenue more than 50% -- this means that it is the government who is the majority partner. My point is that, to the extent the money comes from addicts, it is not as voluntary as you might think. My assertion: The voluntariness is outweighed by the predatory nature of the industry.

The gambling industry (and it's passive majority partner -- the State of Penna) does much more than allow people to become addicts – they actively encourage addiction. The design of the machines, the technology involved, the complete lack of safeguards, the prevalent alcohol, the fact that slots parlors are open 24 hours a day, and the fact that there are ATMs located right along the wall so you can get more money once you've spent your intended limit.

Think about just one of those facts: the slots parlors are open 24-hours a day. Why is this? Do we really want to encourage our citizens to gamble at 4am? There is only one reason why the slots parlor is open at 4am: because when the addict gambles all through the night until sunrise, through breakfast and on and on and on, the last thing the casino wants to do is interrupt the addict's gambling. How can any state legislator justify this predatory practice? It is unconscionable. Why doesn't a state legislator try to amend Act 71 to require that slots parlors close at 3am? (or 4 am?).

Another example: The industry (and it's passive majority partner) issues comps, including free plays. Philadelphia Park in Bensalem has special promotions where you can get $25, $50 or even $100 worth of free play. (Can you imagine if the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had a policy of saying, "Hey, here are two free cartons of cigarettes, give it a try.”)

Finding out the true percentage of revenue coming from addicts is as simple as pie. Each casino knows full well who its customers are and how many are addicts. The vast majority of gamblers have "loyalty cards," which allow them to accrue points for promotions and comps. Well, through the loyalty cards, the casino amasses huge databases indicating exactly how often Joe Schmoe gambles, on what particular days he gambles, how long he sits at the machine (5 hours in a row?, 8 hours in a row? 30 hour a week?), how much he spends and even how rapidly he hits the button (those who hit the buttons really fast -- well, those are the addicts). The State could demand copies of these databases and we'd know in 1 week how much of the revenue comes from addicts.

Here's a good piece in Discover Magazine from just last week:

We should look into this before expanding gambling to include 10,000 video poker machines in our City. Please weigh in if you are willing to call for public hearings on video poker.

A quibble, of sorts

My point isn't so much that gambling- or drinking, or smoking, for that matter- are entirely voluntary activities. My degree is in psych, + I've worked for a fair amount of my life w/and arouna addicts. That being said, though, part of the *appeal* of gambling and alcohol/tobacco taxes is the perception that they are taxes on voluntary activities; that is, activities which are, in no way, shape, or form, necessary for life. They may be necessary to feed an addiction, though, which is why taxing them appeals to people who aren't addicts: they punish + use the addiction.

The problem is, as has been mentioned, that gambling, alcohol, and tobacco taxes effectively make the state dependent, to some extent, on on activity which it wants to discourage. Think about it: if people stopped smoking, then cigarette taxes would no longer bring in money. Therefore, the state has a vested interest in keeping people smoking. Yet it doesn't want them to smoke. Cross purposes, as they say.


The point is also the faulty thinking

that lies behind using gambling as a state funding mechanism. To think that way, you need to unrealistically divorce the revenue from gambling from its inherent costs.

It's like thinking of the revenues from a gas tax without thinking of the costs to society of dependency on oil and burning fossil fuels. It's like thinking of the revenue from cigarette taxes without accounting for the costs of providing hospital care for people who don't have insurance but do have emphysema.

Except in this case, rather than taxing habits that already exist, our "leaders" are creating a mechanism for creating new habits based on an unrealistic cost/benefit rationale. Either those leaders are lazy in their analysis, or they're selling us out to the businesspeople who stand to benefit from increased gambling.

Maybe not even a quibble

Hey Z,

I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to quibble. I was just taking the word and delving into it.

My quibble is with people (not you) who brush off the issue by saying, "Well, if people want to gamble, so be it; if they don't want to gamble, they don't have to." I think most people on this blog realize it's a bit more complicated than that.

No quibble wit u.

And, yes, you bring up an excellent point: the state gets addicted to the revenue. That's why tying Video Poker proceeds to, let's say, college scholarships is so pernicious. It's a familiar ploy attempted by many cowardly politicians, even progressive, well-intentioned ones:

The elephant in the casino

The elephant is what Zorro mentioned, government addiction to gambling revenue. Given that problem, finding substitute revenue for gambling's "easy" cash has to be a major element of the fight against casinos and video poker, not a footnote. Without excusing the cowardice of our elected leaders, the burden is clearly on us to show them that they can be elected and re-elected while pushing progressive choices. Otherwise, we'll find ourselves constantly pitted against seniors, college students, and any number of other worthy beneficiaries of ill-gotten, or even phony, revenues that we have no substitute for.

It's not easy for us to advocate other sources of revenue because many of us are conflicted and divided among ourselves about what they should be. But a dialogue among us has to start. And we have to delegitimize the notion that progressive taxation is inherently counterproductive because it chases away those you seek to tax. That simplistic notion has never been proven, and clearly, to avoid taxing the poor one way or another, that's a risk we have to enthusiastically, forcefully and constantly pose as worth taking.

Is it better to delegitimize a notion, or just prove it wrong?

I vote for prove it wrong.

And no one here agrees that flat taxes are right in any case. It violates the canons of taxation.

(1. That it bear as lightly as possible upon production — so as least to check the increase of the general fund from which taxes must be paid and the community maintained.
2. That it be easily and cheaply collected, and fall as directly as may be upon the ultimate payers — so as to take from the people as little as possible in addition to what it yields the government.
3. That it be certain — so as to give the least opportunity for tyranny or corruption on the part of officials, and the least temptation to law-breaking and evasion on the part of the tax-payers.
4. That it bear equally — so as to give no citizen an advantage or put any at a disadvantage, as compared with others.)

Progressive taxation is certainly a worthy goal. Changing it will also take a long long time in this legislature, because many Dems - as I have said in the past - will not lift a finger to help Philly in the cases where a Dillon's Rule "Mother May I?" scenario applies.

We don't have that kind of time right now; so to quote Tolstoy "What then must we do?"

Hurling orders and picking subjects to tax and hate is not a plan. What's to be done?

Joshua Vincent
Phree Philly

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