Business Columns & Blogs

Let’s go all in on gambling

Here at the Institute for Modest Proposals we have been working overtime to help the governor and the Legislature out of yet another billion-dollar budget hole.

Our help is needed, because so far the leading ideas have been another increase in the sales tax, and another run at implementing a state income tax.

Another revenue-raising approach is to expand gambling. That’s the line of thought we’re pursuing, but frankly current proposals are not nearly sweeping enough.

So in the interest of visionary thinking about Washington’s budget problems, we say: Think of the children.

No, not “think of the children” in terms of the revenue that might be generated for kids’ education, although that’s a part of it. What we’re paying attention to is a captive and eager audience that the state can tap as a revenue source.

What, you think kids don’t have the kind of money that would generate sufficient income? Have you seen the electronic toys they’re toting around these days? You think that gambling should be kept far away from our innocent youth? You must have been playing tetherball while sharp operators at your school were organizing penny pitching and other games of chance.

Here is a wonderful opportunity to combine teachable moments with revenue generation. Instead of dry textbook lessons on the outcomes of coin flips or dice rolls, imagine the real-world instruction in statistical probability to be provided through in-classroom blackjack tables and roulette wheels, providing our leaders of tomorrow with such essential skills as card counting.

Here’s also an opportunity to address the adage that gambling is a tax on people who are bad at math. And if teachers want to self-fund their pensions by getting in on the action, so much the better. The state Supreme Court has ruled Washington must do a better job of funding public education; how could it possibly object to such an innovative solution?

Let’s not stop there.

Health care is another huge financial burden on government; it’s also another opportunity. Hospitals are full of patients who really aren’t doing much all day. Wouldn’t their days be enlivened by having some video poker screens in their rooms? Perhaps some candy-stripers could wheel portable gambling tables from room to room. How about gambling in doctors’ waiting and exam rooms instead of months-old magazines?

You say libraries are curtailing hours and cutting purchases of books because of budget constraints? Shove aside some of those computers where patrons are doing, um, “research,” and install gambling terminals. The quaint notion of the library as a quiet refuge for study has already been dispelled by the introduction of vending machines and the like – but to placate the traditionalists, we’ll turn off the beeps and chirps more associated with the casino floor.

The more we think about it, the more possibilities we see.

Employers can install tables and machines in break rooms, and split proceeds with the state; or they could place gambling devices in places where smokers congregate in the drizzle.

To those who object to the proliferation of gambling, we say: That bridge has already been crossed, and burned behind us. At some point Internet gambling is going to be fully legalized so the feds can get their hands on a cut. At some point a large city in the Northwest is going to allow a casino in a prime downtown waterfront location – Seattle, Portland, maybe even Tacoma (“Vegas on Commencement Bay!”). Better to get ahead of the trend than to be run over by it.

Sorry to tell you, gambling is not just physically ubiquitous, it has permeated the culture.

Or have you not been paying attention to how Wall Street and the banking industry have been operating the last decade and a half?

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at