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Gambling and its limits

April 05, 2005

A new study by two University of Nevada-Las Vegas professors shows that West Virginia depends on gambling for 8.01 percent of its general revenue.

That's a bigger percentage than all except seven other states, but the researchers said that adding casino-style table games could make the state a resort destination for gamblers.

That may be true as long as West Virginia has casino-style gambling and others do not. But when the others add these games, as they will in an effort to stay competitive, what then?

If West Virginia is going to become a resort destination, it needs to have something other than gambling for people to do when they visit.

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According to The Associated Press, the study was done to help Wisconsin officials decide how to tax gambling on American Indian reservations. It contains some interesting facts.

Even though casino gambling has been legalized in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and New Jersey, the study found that taxes haven't been reduced as a result.

Mark Muchow, fiscal policy director for West Virginia's Department of Revenue, said that is because of the explosive growth in the cost of Medicaid, which funds medical care for the indigent.

Muchow told The Associated Press that Medicaid costs are going up faster than taxpayers are willing to fund them. Expanded gambling is one of the few possibilities open to states, he said.

The study recommends that in addition to adding casino-style games, the state should make sure that new or renovated facilities have amenities that go beyond gambling.

The study didn't say what those amenities should be, but heritage tourism is one possibility. Another would be to create a more vigorous state furniture industry with factories in which buyers could watch as items were being built.

None of this will replace what must remain West Virginia's first priority - getting more of its citizens to attend college. The PROMISE scholarship program, funded in part with gambling revenues is a good first step. But gambling - and the jobs that go with it - should only be a temporary solution.

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