State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.
The nonpartisan Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. has just released the results of its 2009 nationwide survey on attitudes of American taxpayers. The survey was conducted between February 18 and 27, 2009 among 2,002 adults (aged 18 or older).
For the first time, this question was posed to taxpayers:
“Currently, most state governments raise revenue through government-run gambling operations, such as lotteries, keno games and video lottery terminals (which offer casino- type games such as poker, blackjack and slots), for the purpose of general government spending. In general, do you favor or oppose such government-run gambling operations?”
Here are the results:
27 percent: somewhat supportive
26 percent: strongly supportive
12 percent: strongly oppose
10 percent: somewhat opposed
I am not surprised that over half of the respondents approve of state-run lotteries. The Tax Foundation reports, “State-run lotteries are the most popular form of commercial gambling in the U.S., with half or more Americans participating in any given year. In 2008, total consumer spending on lotteries was over $60 billion – or $199 per capita– and in 2004 the average American spent more money on lotteries than on reading materials and movie theater tickets combined.”
During June 2008, I blogged that most states, including Wisconsin, are hooked on gambling.
However, I have to wonder what the results of the Tax Foundation survey might have been if there had been a follow-up to their single, very general question about lotteries. For example, what if the Tax Foundation had added a second question like this:
“Would you favor or oppose government-run gambling operations if the social costs associated with this type of gambling exceeded government-run gambling -related tax relief?”
There are tremendous costs to the families of troubled gamblers. There are financial loses. Serious problem gamblers lose or quit their jobs, steal money to support their gambling habit, think about and actually plan suicide, and some even make suicide attempts. Children of problem gamblers develop behavior and adjustment problems suffering from depression, anxiety, and cynicism.
A Wisconsin Policy Research Institute study in 1996 reported the average serious problem gambler imposed costs close to $10,000 upon Wisconsin each year with a total annual social cost impact of over $307 million. That was during 1996. The number of problem gamblers has increased since, so the societal cost has also increased.
A July 2008 audit of the Wisconsin lottery by the Legislative Audit Bureau found that property tax relief totaled $697.9 million over the past five fiscal years, including $160.0 million in 2006-07.
Social cost of gambling: over $307 million/yr
Property tax relief for the latest year available: $160 million
The social costs far outweigh the gain in property tax relief. However, the state gambling genie is out of the bottle and will probably never return.
Wisconsin’s dispute with the Ho-Chunk Nation might be over after a four year battle, and Wisconsin taxpayers got the short end of the stick in the gambling compact settlement.
The Ho-Chunk stopped making payments to the state in 2004 after signing a compact with Governor Doyle in 2003. The tribe argued that because a 2004 state Supreme Court ruling invalidated a similar compact agreement with the Forest County Potawatomi, it owed the state nothing.
Since 2004, Ho-Chunk halted payments with the exception of a one-time $30-million payment during 2006 it claimed demonstrated good faith bargaining. Here are the details of the recent settlement that should have taxpayers quizzically shaking their heads wondering, is that all there is?
The state contended the Ho-Chunk owed $72 million. Ho-Chunk has agreed to pay $60 million. That is a $12 million jolt to Wisconsin taxpayers.
Terms of the old compact had the Ho-Chunk paying the state a six percent tax of its take. Under the new compact, the Ho-Chunk will make payments of five percent if net earnings are below $350 million and 5.5 percent if earnings exceed $350 million. The reduced percentage means a loss of millions of dollars to the state. By contrast, the Potawatomi pay 6.5 percent of winnings.
The new compact also allows the Ho-Chunk to make reductions in their annual payments to the state:
- Beginning May 1, 2010, the tribe can deduct payments made to counties totaling $1,000 for every acre of land owned by the U.S. government in trust for the tribe located within each county’s jurisdiction in July, 2003. The LFB informs me that during July 2003 the Ho-Chunk had approximately 2,300 acres of trust land that could result in a reduction in their annual state payment of $2.3 million.
- During a 10-year period from May 1, 2009 to May 1, 2019, the tribe could deduct the amounts it paid for public works projects that benefit both the tribe and the state. Deductions would be limited to no more than $1.0 million in any one year and the total deductions for the period could not exceed $5.0 million. That means there could be an average annual deduction of $500,000.
- The tribe can also deduct any additional amounts paid by the tribe for projects that the state and the tribe agree provide a substantial public benefit in areas of economic development, infrastructure, health, safety, or welfare. These deductions would begin May 1, 2019, would be limited to a total of $4 million, with annual deductions limited to a maximum of $1 million.