It’s inevitable, probably.
Combine a desire to avoid gut-wrenching budget cuts with a lack of political appetite for taxes. Toss in a belief that the restaurant, nightclub and bar business could use a boost. Add in a sense among some that Washington state is still affected by puritanical blue laws.
Shake it all together and out pops the argument for more permissive gambling and liquor laws.
It’s happened before. America and Washington state ended Prohibition not just because it was a disaster – which it was. The deal-maker was the assertion that a Depression-riddled nation needed the tax revenues from legalized booze, beer and wine.
And we have a lottery because the early ’80s Legislature was desperate for a bit – though not very much – of cash the games could produce.
Which makes a recent blog post on the liberal-leaning Seattle website PubliCola more than an academic exercise.
“An Adult Conversation about Adult Entertainment and Budget Deficits” is how David Meinert begins his essay. By “adult,” he doesn’t mean sex clubs, though he mentions those. He means places where adults can gather to drink, gamble and be entertained.
The Seattle music promoter and owner of the 5 Point Cafe in Belltown argues for increasing the number and hours of liquor stores, getting rid of the 2 a.m. closing time, allowing slot machines for nontribal entrepreneurs and negotiating revenue-sharing deals with tribal casinos.
“In Seattle, we’re squandering millions of dollars in potential revenues.” Meinert wrote. “Our current elected politicians are willing to sacrifice jobs, education, and health care in order to avoid an open discussion on how to make money from things they publicly find distasteful.”
Meinert is not without influence in Seattle. He is a leader and spokesman for the live music community and has entree to the offices of local politicians, from Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn to King County Executive Dow Constantine.
But for someone considered politically savvy, he does slip up in citing a discredited argument made by Republicans against Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2008: that she killed a revenue-sharing agreement with tribes in exchange for their contributions to her re-election campaign.
What Gregoire backtracked on was a deal with the Spokane tribe that was opposed by Republicans and Democrats, by other tribes and by commercial gambling interests. They all hated it because the rather meager revenue sharing came in exchange for a massive expansion of tribal gambling and a monopoly on the slot machines Meinert wants in bars and taverns.
It also would have ended a method that helps poor and remote tribes get some of the profits from tribes with large casinos in populated areas.
Still, his basic position stands – that rather than cut deeper into social services and education, the state should expand and tax liquor and gambling. He estimates the take could reach $1.5 billion a year.
This is where David Goldstein comes into the debate. Goldstein first became known for a bit of political theater – a 2003 initiative that would have declared that “Tim Eyman is a Horse’s Ass.” It was blocked by a judge but set Goldstein up as a political commentator, mostly – but not always – from the left.
“Stupid Budget Tricks, or Why Our State Government Can’t Afford to Become Addicted to Gambling and Alcohol” is the headline on his reply, posted last week on The Stranger’s blog called the Slog.
In it, he calls Meinert’s revenue estimates “pure fantasy” and brings up some of the negative impacts of broader access to gambling and alcohol. You know, like how the only way to make more revenue from those vices is to have people gamble more and drink more.
“And yet, that’s Meinert’s solution for funding K-12 education and children’s health care: a libertarian, adult entertainment dystopia that turns all our communities into Atlantic City.” (I removed an expletive between “Atlantic” and “City.”)
“Fortunately, Washington voters have better sense, repeatedly rejecting at the polls both gambling expansion and state (liquor) store privatization measures,” Goldstein wrote.
And the debate continues.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657