You want more casinos in Florida? Fine by me, on one condition:
That they not be a source of money for the government.
That might sound crazy, I realize.
After all, "free money" for the public purse is always the first argument in favor of casinos. Who could possibly be against "free money"?
The other day in Tallahassee they talked about all the dough raised by states that allow gambling now. Florida could get hundreds of millions a year, too, they said.
(Until, one supposes, every state is doing it. To compete then, we might have to fall back on, I dunno, having nicer weather and beaches or something.)
Now, just for starters, this money isn't entirely "free."
Some of it will be money that would have been spent somewhere else in Florida. No wonder there are skeptics in our existing tourism and entertainment industry.
There are hidden public and societal costs that don't get figured in, ranging from crime to addiction.
Most important, our own history shows that gambling revenue tends to replace tax dollars over time, not add to them, leaving us no better off — if not worse. I'm stealing the next three paragraphs from a previous column:
So it always goes with "new" tax dollars. We will rely on casino money more and more to pay for the basic government, and it will become our crutch and our drug. It will sap our principle and our will.
Here is an old-fashioned thing to say. Gambling is a debilitating source of revenue for a democratic society.
It is a false promise. We are tempted by the idea that Somebody Else will pay so that we don't have to. We are converted from being stakeholders to the indolent beneficiaries of the roll of the dice.
Even our new governor, Rick Scott, has repeatedly expressed doubts about relying on gambling to pay for government. I hope he means it.
Make no mistake: If people want to gamble, they should be able to. We ought to be past banning these kinds of things on the grounds of "morality." (Why is the state lottery legal, but roulette still a crime?)
Maybe, too, there will be lots of economic impact, as they claim.
Maybe there will be thousands of new jobs — although I still would rather have a state full of graduates from a world-class state university system than a state of blackjack dealers and cocktail servers. (Neither do I mean offense to blackjack dealers and cocktail servers, only that we need more than that.)
Gambling for fun? Absolutely.
Gambling for tourism? Okay, although it might hurt some other guys.
Gambling as a source of jobs? Maybe, with reservations.
Gambling to pay for the democracy itself? It is a bad idea.