The squeeze is on. Demand for government to decrease it’s reliance on sales, property, and income taxes as sources of revenue is continuing to rise, leaving policy makers scrambling for new, less painful sources of revenue. Also going up are the costs of providing public services, entitlement programs, and conducting the other various functions of government. This upward spiral requires that they simultaneously look for better, cheaper, and more effective spending strategies. It is no wonder that policy makers are starting to feel the pinch. To make things all the more uncertain, we are facing a federal debt that seems to swell exponentially on a daily basis and a national economy with the moodiness and sensitivity of a manic-depressive. All in all, it is a situation that demands a whole new degree of creativity from all levels of government.
This cathartic hour in the fiscal evolution of our nation has pressured out a myriad of new and unorthodox strategies for spending cuts and new sources of revenue. One group of these new strategies, termed “sin taxes”, (so called because they are directly associated with what is traditionally considered the seedier side of American life), are gaining widespread popular support and are being considered a silver lining without the dark clouds by some in the federal government and by many financially strapped state legislatures.
Sin taxes are really two different types of revenue strategies with two different outlooks, combined under one name. The first of the two categories is government sponsored lotteries and legalized gambling. The second category is excise taxes. The two differ in that legalized gambling tends to be an encouraged vice, an attitude fostered by the states’ hope of improving revenues.On the other side, excise taxes are often levied on products considered socially unvirtuous, products like alcohol and tobacco. In these cases they are used as a deterrent in order to discourage the use of the products they are applied to.
Lotteries and Gambling
Lotteries and gambling are not really new concepts in the search for sources of revenue. The first Continental Congress made the use of lotteries to help finance the Revolutionary War. You could say that, in more than one way, we all owe our freedom to man’s willingness to take a gamble. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson all ran their own private lotteries.
There was a time, however, not too long ago, when gambling was held in notorious regard by the general public. In fact, gambling houses were considered only slightly above opium dens in their insidiousness. Gambling was made out to be a hideous social monster that stole bread from the mouths of children, made families destitute, and put people out of their homes. At various times in our history gambling has created, in the minds of “decent” citizens at least, visions of the illicit. Images of slick, smooth talking professional cheats beguiling the public. “In 1955,baseball commissioner Ford Frick considered wagering so corrupt he prohibited major leaguers from overnighting in Los Vegas.”
In the last decade or so, however, viewpoints have changed dramatically. Public perspective on gambling has turned almost one hundred and eighty degrees. A recent survey conducted by Harrah’s, a casino company, found that “fifty-one percent of American adults believe ‘casino entertainment’ is ‘acceptable for anyone.’ Another thirty-five percent say it’s ‘acceptable for others, but not for me.'”
This drastic change of attitude may seem surprising at first but that surprise quickly fades once you realize what American societies moral indignation has been up against. An increasingly bleak outlook in finding and maintaining employment and a growing uncertainty in maintaining financial security teamed with an aggressive marketing and public opinion campaign launched by casino interests, state governments, and Indian reservations has almost certainly had a hand in eroding anti-gambling zeal.
State and city governments further untarnished gambling’s image by imprinting the funds they created for special programs like education and senior’s funds to make it more agreeable to constituents. Other things, such as the many churches that use bingo as a way to raise funds, have contributed as well. The change of casinos from ‘family’ run businesses to the tidy glow of corporate ownership has rinsed away the stain