Gambling our way out of hard times is nothing new.
Greyhounds, thoroughbreds and cesta-wielding Basques fueled the Florida dream during the 1920s boom. They weren't sanctioned, but they weren't exactly illegal either. The courts hadn't yet sorted it out.
Then in 1931, a vicious hurricane, housing market collapse and the Great Depression persuaded a revenue-starved Legislature to cash in. No sense in letting track and fronton owners scoop up all the riches. Let's allow the games and tax sin.
In 1987, people yearning for better schools brought the numbers game to convenience stores. Mobsters in Tampa and Miami made fortunes on bolita for decades. Why not a state lottery?
Now comes Powerball, with jackpots to entice an oil sheik. With state officials hoping it can revitalize flagging lottery sales, last week's kickoff drawing raised $3.5-million for schools.
One drawback to gambling as a tax generator is that dollars spent here diminish what gets spent elsewhere. In its heyday, parimutuel gambling provided almost 20 percent of state revenues. But the lottery, Indian gaming and out-of-state casinos killed it. The cost of regulating horse and dog tracks now eats up most of the tax money gained.
Lottery sales dwindle as casino gambling expands. Slot machines installed at just three parimutuel outlets in Broward and Miami-Dade counties attracted $3-billion in wagers last year, compared with $4-billion spent on all lottery games combined.
Here's a rundown of legal gambling in Florida and how it affects state coffers.
|Money bet||Paid out||Tax revenue|
|Florida Lottery (2008)||$4.2-billion (Scratch-off: $2.4-billion, Lotto: $779-million, all other games: $1-billion)||About $2.1-billion (50 percent)||About $2.1-billion|
|Slot machines (In three Broward and Miami-Dade parimutuel outlets, FY 2007-08)||$3-billion||$2.767-billion (91.5 percent)||$123-million|
|Horse racing||$869-million (FY 2007-08)||$681-million (78.5 percent)||$11.9-million|
|Dog racing||$406-million (FY 2007-08)||$309-million (76.1 percent)||$10.5-million|
|Card rooms (At parimutuel outlets, FY 2007-08)||About $1-billion||Pay out unavailable, but house take from pots was $91-million.||$9.1-million|
|Jai alai (FY 2007-08)||* Money bet: $69-million||* Paid out: $51-million (73.9 percent)||* Tax and fee revenue: $559,880|