As the Gipper quipped, “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” 

That quote is decades old but rings true here in Alabama today. 

The newest argument for the promotion of state-sponsored gambling in Alabama is that illegal gambling is occurring. The mantra is that gambling should be legislatively legalized and expanded because some people already gamble illegally. That’s right - rational people are actually making the argument that since people are currently breaking state law, state law needs to change in order to properly tax and regulate the criminals.

What a nonsensical argument!  Shouldn’t we expect state government to shut down illegal activity?  Why is the state not enforcing the law?  That is the question that all law-abiding citizens should be asking our governor. 

We are living in a time of relative lawlessness in the state. Picking and choosing which laws to enforce isn’t any better than picking and choosing winners and losers in the bowels of a casino. There is clearly a leadership deficit in Alabama. If gambling operators are currently breaking state law, then they should be held to account rather than be rewarded with the legalization of their illegal activities. If gambling operators are currently breaking the law, their operations should be shuttered rather than rewarded by the legislature by being knighted as sole operators for the state in a state-sanctioned gambling monopoly. 

Legalizing illegal gambling due to criminal behavior is irrational; that same argument would hold true for dealing and using illegal substances and basically all illegal actions. Criminals are going to engage in drug trafficking, human trafficking, and gun trafficking just to name a few - why not let government get its share of those revenues by legalizing them as well?

The result of state-sponsored gambling and drug addiction is that more people need help to overcome their addictions. Hence, government increases taxes in order to turn around and spend the revenue for government-funded services for those in need. The new revenue rarely matches the increased need for new spending. Increasing vice taxes increases revenues to government. Taxpayers who choose not to partake sometimes like these regressive taxes because the money isn’t coming directly from their pocket. However, all of society pays when government takes more of our money to create bigger government; a bigger government equates to a more powerful government. 

Individual addictions shouldn’t be encouraged or taken advantage of by the government. Vices shouldn’t be legalized in order for the state to normalize and make profits off them. State-sanctioned addiction is still addiction. In fact, state-enabled addiction is even worse. Legalizing vices like gambling and drug use encourages law-abiding citizens to indulge in those vices while the state benefits monetarily from more and more of their indulgence. Governments who promote gambling and enable drug use become codependent upon their own citizen’s addictions by providing sources to feed the addiction; they never want to curb or end it because the revenue stream is plentiful and becomes more and more necessary through exponential governmental growth.

Increased revenues from gambling and drug use won’t improve our communities. It is not just addicts and their families who lose; our society and culture lose when our government actively encourages people to participate in vices that ruin lives. The house always wins and with legalized gambling, there are two houses: the casino and the government. New revenues can never make up for the societal costs that vices bring. Money can’t fix all things.

Government helps create the problem. Government creates programs to combat the problem that they created. Government asks for more taxpayer dollars to fund the programs that they created to combat the problem that they helped create. Tale as old as time. Older than the Gipper.

Bigger government is never the answer. Bigger government built on the backs of the addicted is something to be ashamed of, not something to promote and certainly not something to legalize.

Stephanie Holden Smith is an experienced policy analyst, political commentator, and public speaker. Smith has worked and volunteered in Governmental Affairs in Alabama since 1997, including lobbying for a Fortune 500 company and serving as Deputy Director of Finance for the State of Alabama. She is currently the principal of Thatcher Coalition LLC. To contact Stephanie, please go to http://thatchercoalition.com. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information [email protected].