He is referring, of course, to the tax money Indiana gets from its casinos, which are facing stiff and growing competition from gambling dens in nearby states. Ten of our 13 casinos are in counties adjacent to other states, and Illinois, Michigan and Ohio are making every effort to eat into their revenue.
Long misstates the situation when he says those states are “out to get back” money we’ve taken from them with our casinos. What they’re actually competing for is the privilege of indecently stealing their residents’ hard-earned money instead of letting us continue to indecently steal it. Oh, and they want to return the favor of cross-border raids by adding our residents to their list of gambling victims.
He is, alas, absolutely correct in his assessment of the importance of gambling to the state’s economy. Casino tax revenues from wagers and admissions were 5.4 percent lower last year compared with 2008. Gaming taxes remain the state’s third-largest source of revenue after income and sales taxes but now make up only 4 percent of the total.
He is also right that building more casinos is not the answer. The state is already in the disreputable business of exploiting its citizens’ moral weaknesses, and helping exploit them even more is not an honorable proposition.
So if we don’t build more casinos, the obvious solution is to make the ones we already have more competitive. Long isn’t endorsing any specific idea – such as an earlier failed proposal to let casinos move inland instead of pretending to be “riverboat” establishments but says the General Assembly should open to any plan accepted by all of the delegation from northwest Indiana, which has the most to gain and lose in the great casino border wars. The moving-inland plan, advanced from Gary, was spurned by Hammond, which wanted to protect its own casino.
There is a larger lesson here about economic development. In its approach to all business and industry – not just ones facing new stresses – the state’s best approach is to do everything it can to make them more competitive. And it’s not just borders with other states that are of concern. Our private sector is in competition with the whole world.