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.