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March 08, 2006

Will outrage trump addiction?

We're 'bout to find out whether Iowa's lawmakers are more outraged than addicted.

The cynic in me says they'll go with "addicted," since the drug is money and lord knows lawmakers like money, which is pouring in from those slot machines flooding the state these days. There's 6,018 of them, with more on the way. They're in 2,832 convenience and grocery stores, bars and restaurants. People put $212 million into them in the last eight months. The state's share was $19 million, and all the projections are really rosy. Hmmmmmm....money
.

But I'm still hoping for "outraged." Anytime a bunch of legislators are yelling that they didn't know what they were doing, you know they done something stupid and are catching heat about it. They are catching heat, big-time heat, about the TouchPlay machines they authorized back in 2002. Turns out, though, that lots of Iowans aren't ready for a slot machine on every corner.

"I have never seen more e-mails and more contacts than I have on this bill," said Sen. Larry McKibbon of Marshalltown, who's far from alone in the dash away from the machines. House and Senate committees alike have OK'd bills to get rid of the machines, despite warnings that a quagmire of contract issues will result.

Gov. Tom Vilsack's even asked a task force to take a look at the issue, and it offered a bunch namby-pamby recommendations about not putting the slots right next to the ATMs, and making sure the wall around them is three-feet high, or whatever.

"My constituents have overwhelming said 'get these things out of here,"' said Rep. Sandy Greiner, R-Keota. "They really resent taking their children into a grocery store or convenience store and having these machines all over."

It does seem kind of un-Iowan to scatter slot machines all over. Even Illinois, with it's thirst for gambling bucks, has backed off several proposals to put gambling machines in every bar and restaurant.

It also seems kind of un-Iowan to take such advantage of the naive and the stupid. The suckers who put the $212 million in the machines, got back $133 million in winnings -- about 63 cents for every dollar they put in. Even the casinos only keep 3 or 4 pennies on the dollar.

I'm also irritated that the Iowa Lottery folks refused to give up the numbers on TouchPlay until forced to by a Freedom of Information lawsuit. It's bothersome, too, that there's no standard contract between the state and people owning the machines and the places they're in. Different stores, different contracts, apparently.

All pretty un-Iowan. So I'll accept the lawmakers' claim that they were just ignorant in 2002, so long as they act un-ignorantly in 2006. Their chance comes next week.

Posted by jcb at March 8, 2006 05:16 PM

Comments

You're right about the state's addiction to gambling. But you also might want to include local governments, school districts and non-profit organizations among the gambling money addicts. We have slid down the slippery slope, so to speak, and the next logical progression is to have slot machines in every retail establishment. I especially like the location of the TouchPlay machines at HyVee. . . right near the check-out line.

Posted by: greg at March 8, 2006 09:12 PM