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.
"America is on a gambling binge. The more available and accessible it becomes, the more gambling is acceptable to people.”
Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling made that concession during March 2006. Grey’s next line was the following:
"But shouldn't government be encouraging people to save their money instead of encouraging them to gamble?"
Even if you believe the answer to Grey’s question is yes, the stark reality is just the opposite. Government is expanding gaming options, even searching for creative ways to separate gamblers from their money.
Stateline.org reports, “States are more addicted to gambling revenue than ever as the lure of easy new money for schools, tax relief and public services has led to an explosion of state-sanctioned casinos, slot machines at racetracks and lottery games. Twenty-five years ago, gambling was legal in only three states. Now every state except Utah and Hawaii rely on gambling to generate revenues to help avoid raising taxes.”
Wisconsin is right there with other states, enabling gambling that rivals Las Vegas and promoting games with clever marketing in radio and TV ads. The heavy concentration of games has evolved despite the fact Wisconsin voters took a firm stand against the proliferation of gambling.
The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau wrote a report during May 2000 entitled, “The Evolution of Legalized Gambling in Wisconsin.” The report details the 1993 statewide vote that asked voters if Wisconsin had enough gambling:
“Governor Thompson called a special session in June 1992 to consider amending the constitution to permanently exclude casino style gambling from inclusion in the state lottery. After considerable debate and a series of legislative hearings held around the state, the following question was presented to the voters:
Gambling expansion prohibited. Shall article IV of the constitution be revised to clarify that all forms of gambling are prohibited except bingo, raffles, pari-mutuel on-track betting and the current state-run lottery and to assure that the state will not conduct prohibited forms of gambling as part of the state-run lottery?
Republican Governor Thompson and Democratic Attorney General Doyle stumped for the amendment in joint appearances around the state and expressed a shared desire to restrict the expansion of gambling. The Wisconsin Conference of Churches and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference also favored passage, asserting that gambling activity had exceeded the bounds of moderation and was a threat to community values and health. On April 6, 1993, the amendment was ratified by a vote of 623,987 to 435,180. As things now stand, state-operated or private casino-style gaming in Wisconsin would require subsequent constitutional change.
The results of the advisory referenda, which also appeared on the ballot, indicated the voters’ preference for maintaining the status quo regarding gambling. They voted against allowing casino gambling on excursion boats (604,289 to 465,432); against video poker and other forms of off-reservation video gambling (702,864 to 358,045); for a continuation of pari-mutuel on-track wagering on racing, such as on horses, dogs, or snowmobiles (548,580 to 507,403); and for the continuation of the state lottery (773,306 to 287,585). A fifth advisory question, asking voters if they favored a constitutional amendment that would restrict gambling casinos in the state, was made moot by the ratification of the amendment, but it passed by a vote of 646,827 to 416,722.”
Despite those votes, Governor Doyle has signed gaming compacts with tribes that have resulted in an explosion of gambling never foreseen. After Louis Butler replaced Diane Sykes on the state Supreme Court, the court made a ruling that essentially okayed the expended gaming negotiated in the compacts.
My July 17, 2006 column said, “Thanks to the ruling, the state’s largest gambling operation, the Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee will now advance with plans to triple its floor space, currently at 70,000 square feet. That will give the facility 210,000 square feet, more floor space than any casino in all of Las Vegas. The MGM Grand Hotel is the largest casino in Las Vegas at 171,500 square feet.
The Potawatomi also plan to double the number of slot machines from 1,500 to 3,000. That would rival the MGM Grand’s 3,700 slot machines, and the expanded Potawatomi facility would have more slots than any other casino in Las Vegas; Wynn (2,500), Venetian (2,500), Bellagio (2,433), Mandalay Bay (2,400), Mirage (2,294), Circus Circus (2,255), Excalibur (2,250), Caesars Palace (2,100), and the Palms, Luxor and New York New York hotels, (2,000).”
As predicted, last week the Potawatomi Bingo Casino advertised the grand opening of its expansion, now featuring 3100 slot machines.
The director of the Wisconsin Lottery now wishes games could be offered online.
This follows a national trend of states searching for new ways to expand gambling opportunities, from “racinos”, slots at racetracks to state-owned casino resorts.
Is there no end to what states might do to recruit more gamblers? Probably not.
The Denver Post reports the Colorado Lottery is now selling coffee-flavored scratch-and-sniff scratch-off lottery tickets with chocolate and flower flavored scents coming soon. A spokeswoman for the Colorado Lottery, Erika Gonzalez says, "We could even have a Corona with lime."