by Max Brantley
Lunch speaker at the Clinton School today is Michael Nelson, a poli-sci prof at Rhodes College in Memphis, who'll talk about "Why Arkansas Doesn't Have Casinos or a lottery." It's open to the public.
(Nelson apparently doesn't count a collection of video poker machines, poker tables, video blackjack, wagering parlors, and coin-operated machines that pay off when certain combinations of numbers appear -- none dare call these games of skill slot machines -- as casinos. If he did, he'd note we have racinos in West Memphis and Hot Springs.)
Nelson is author of "How the South Joined the Gambling Nation," reviewed by Bob Lancaster last week. Lancaster's take on Arkansas's lagging in gambling action is a little more colorful than Nelson is likely to be:
Arkansas sucks hind teat insofar as latter-day gambling proceeds because we have a unique coalition of Baptists and political liberals who steadfastly slap down every gambling proposal that comes along – most of them, it must be admitted, eminently deserving of being slapped down. We wouldn't even have horse-racing (or dog-racing) if we hadn't been dead-ass dirt-eating broke during the Depression, and our race tracks certainly wouldn't be sporting all these games-of-skill-ha-ha slot machines today if the gamblers hadn't finally learned that half a loaf from a bought legislature is better than the diddly-squat they were going to get by the initiative route.
But speaking of gambling, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter's lottery initiative continues apace. Someday, a spokesman swears, he'll to talk to me about what form of games this lottery might include. Yes, it will be up to the legislature to decide this and predicting that future is uncertain. But as our own attorney general has noted, you could define a lottery as just about any game of chance. If a state that makes gambling unconstitutional can legalize blackjack, poker and "lock-and-load" as games of skill, you can imagine what the state legislature could do with unlimited gambling powers. Maybe a state casino worthy of Monaco. The backers at least ought to express what form the games should take as some kind of guidance for what is to come.
Other questions about the lottery: Where will the money come to get it up and running? How much will that cost? How much money will the big game sellers spend on which politicans to curry favor? And a whole lot more, including a hard look at the likely return and what impact that will have on the legislature's willingness to dig deep for educational purposes.