By David Anderson
The hysteria (“lack of self-control”) surrounding the NCAA basketball championships takes on new meaning this mad month of March with the expected forecast due out of Olympia today, March 17, of a $500 million drop in tax revenue. As scintillating as a back-door lob followed by a windmill-one-arm-throw-down, a slam-dunk proposal sure-to-score among legislators is gambling expansion in (drum roll) Lakewood.
Dolores Chiechi, Executive Director of the Recreational Gaming Association (RGA), says the new video-slot machine proposal her group is proposing would be “accommodated by casinos in Lakewood.”
Of course Pierce County and Tacoma have bans on the casinos, but gambling facilities in Lakewood and in similar venues across Washington would – given Lakewood’s recent history – no doubt welcome these long-sought slots to “level playing field” with the tribal casinos – the only locations currently where such one-armed bandits are allowed to rob customers.
This March 17th date also has significance not only in who is opportunistically taking advantage of the depressed economy and the even more-depressed decision makers, but March 17th is significant for another reason. This date is the three-year anniversary of the Lakewood City Council’s decision to accept the Planning Advisory Board’s so-called two-year “comprehensive study” of the impacts of gambling upon the City. That infamous decision, based upon City leaders’ admission that the PAB’s research was incomplete, was met with the announcement of Lakewood’s first initiative – to ban gambling.
Lakewood’s people-initiative failed in 2008, 3-to-2, but so too did the Lakewood casinos-supported initiative in 2004, 2-to-1, an initiative that would have placed 19,000 slots in non-tribal casinos, taverns, and bowling alleys – any entity with passé pull-tabs.
But that was then, and this is now. Now the slot-expansion proposal is “much less drastic” reports Brad Shannon, political editor at The Olympian, in that only 7,875 slot machines are anticipated – 125 for each of the 63 non-tribal casinos in the state, according to Chiechi’s glowing estimate. In Lakewood, throw in the rerun of “Happy Days” casino, that equates to 625 slots and thus a return to the so-called ‘good ole days’ when Lakewood claimed dubious bragging rights as the Number One Seeded and Crowned Champion “non-tribal gambling capital” for the entire State of Washington.
House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt is one legislator that sees, albeit near-sightedly, dollar signs in the slot proposal. Akin to a wide-eyed and wide-open low-post player beneath the bucket, frantically waving for the ball in the waning seconds of the game, DeBolt declared he “was open to the RGA proposal and said it might not require a supermajority vote in the Legislature to pass, because it doesn’t expand gambling by adding venues.”
Saying “it doesn’t expand gambling by adding venues” is like receiving a pass while having one foot on the end line. It’s a turn-over in B-Ball, and DeBolt’s argument is flawed to even the most far-sighted referee.
Twice in the last three years Lakewood led the parade of the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) to the State Legislature and uttered before the House Labor and Commerce Committee the very same banalities now blathered by DeBolt. HB 2162 (2009), and HB 2873 (2010), were both so-called ‘gambling control’ bills. Neither made it out of committee and a ‘third-time’s-the-charm’ gambit by the AWC never even made it to committee in 2011, let alone out of it.
The reason is, and certainly DeBolt should know because the replay screen is clear to everyone else watching the game, there is no such thing as the ‘control’ of gambling. To offer otherwise is worse than an official who fails to call ‘foul’ of a player tackling an opponent on a breakaway basket. Let alone failing to declare it intentional. “It doesn’t expand gambling by adding venues” is like looking the other way and pretending not to have seen the obvious. This proposal does in fact expand gambling by adding slots. It is no different than any other ad nauseum gambling expansion bill proposed over the last eight years by the RGA. Why not just be honest and call it for what it is? Instead of putting a new face on it – the Recreational Gaming Association – why is it not called ‘gambling’? Why pretend?
That Cheichi and her team would full-court press the legislature with this late-stage run that pretends to cut the budget deficit with a string of unanswered points is to let somebody who shouldn’t even be in the game to hang around until the end. It can spell trouble down the stretch.
Bad economic situations breed bad budget decisions and if there is ever a time a team needs to show its character it’s then that it’s needed – and demonstrated – most.
It’s gut-check time for Washington’s legislators.