Tuesday, June 26, 2012

EDITORIAL >> A good deal? Don’t bet on it

Nancy Todd, an avid poker player and gambling and political consultant, wants to get rich. Nothing wrong with that, we all do.

But she wants to get rich with help from Arkansas taxpayers. Still nothing wrong there, provided we get something in return for making her rich, and in the words of Shakespeare, “There’s the rub.”

Todd’s plans for casinos in the state give her a lot, a whole heck of a lot, but gives the taxpayers not much more than window dressing.

Putting the issue of gambling aside, residents need to reject her petition to put her plans on the November ballot as an amendment to the state constitution.

She needs more than 78,000 signatures by July 6 to get her proposal on the ballot. But residents shouldn’t sign it because it is a bad deal for Arkansas taxpayers.

If Arkansas is going to allow gambling — forever changing its landscape, philosophy and outlook — it needs to get the best deal possible, and Todd’s proposal is not it.

Take a look at what she’s asking for. Todd wants to own, operate and control four casinos in the state — one in the Texarkana area and one near Fort Smith, which she argues will stop the flow of Arkansas money to Indian casinos in Oklahoma.

She’d like to build a casino around Harrison to stop families and seniors from spending their money in Branson, Mo., which has said it is doing just fine without casino help.

A fourth casino would be in the Little Rock area. Why? Simply to grease the palms of those overseeing casinos in the state. Now this isn’t suggesting anything illegal, but it would be interesting to see how many legislative in-laws and outlaws end up with casino-related jobs. It’s just their way of doing business.

Todd believes that casinos will be good for the state because they will create jobs, but most of the high-paying executive casino jobs will be for people moving here, not Arkansans.

But here’s our big concern: If casinos are a cure all, why does she not want to build a casino in the Delta, the part of the state that needs the most help? It’s simple, that would take money out of the Mississippi casinos that she is connected to.

Furthermore, recent financial reports from Mississippi show casino revenues have been falling since 2007.

We’ve seen the same with the lottery here. Mississippi officials conveniently blame the recession. But when customers see that they seldom win, they stop buying. Arkansas’ lottery isn’t producing the winners, nor the scholarships that were touted.

Back to Todd though.

As an incentive for the state to give her casino rights, she says that she will let the state tax her casinos an extra 12.5 percent and that extra money will be spread out among the state because of her goodwill.

It all sounds good, but how much is that, really?

Let’s do a little math. The nine casinos in Tunica, Miss., bring in about $1 billion a year. Arkansas would have four casinos, so let’s cut that $1 billion in half — remember people only have so much money for entertainment — so Arkansas casinos may bring in $500 million.

Todd’s extra tax would mean $63 million is deposited in the state’s coffers, not even enough to make a dent in the looming Medicaid deficit. But the state won’t be able to do just anything with the money. Todd’s proposal specifically splits it up so everyone gets some — very nice of her.

Every county that doesn’t have a casino will get 18 percent of that 12.5 percent or slightly more than $11 million. But wait, that’s not $11 million per county, that’s $11 million divided by the 71 counties she didn’t think were in need of a casino. They would get only $159,000.

Is that enough for Phillips County or Desha County or for you to sell out the state?

As tempting as it might be, the answer should be no, the Natural State is worth more than that to its residents.