Gaming machines illegal, wrong

Published 4:06 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Operators of would-be illegal gaming machines have been in the news quite a bit in recent months, from Walker County to parts unknown in our state.

Not so long ago, deputies from the Shelby County Sheriff’s office broke up gaming machine operations at convenience stores in Calera and Alabaster, so we do not have the luxury to see gaming as “someone else’s” problem; it impacts, directly and indirectly, those of us who call Shelby County home.

The debate on what is an illegal gaming machine and what is simply a “game of chance” has raged for years in our state. We have historically had a penchant for games of chance and the lure of easy money. A simple rule of thumb is that if there is a chance you can leave with more money than you brought, it’s illegal.

Our neighbors in Jefferson and Walker counties have been in the center of the gaming machine controversy, and a new casino has opened in Atmore; these developments have some legislators seeing dollar signs and a means to fix our state’s budget woes through taxing gaming in the state. But the notion that we should compromise our ethics or the laws of the state simply because we need tax revenue is wrongheaded.

So, just what is the big deal about these gaming machines?

According to the constitution of the State of Alabama, as well as Alabama’s highest court, the machines are illegal; that should be plenty of incentive not to play.

Gaming machines prey on the vulnerabilities of those least able to afford such financial mismanagement; there’s no room in Shelby County or our state for folks that do that.

One of gaming’s oldest axioms still holds true today: the house always wins. Gaming will not fix our state’s current budget shortfalls and any “progress” such an effort would make toward that end will be on the backs of those least able to afford the cost.