Casino funding of highways would be sucker’s bet for S.C.

Revel Casino Hotel, in Atlantic City, N.J., seen Thursday, June 19, 2014, filed for bankruptcy protection, warning employees that the $2.4 billion resort could close if a buyer can't be found in bankruptcy court. (AP Photo/The Press of Atlanticy City, Edward Lea)

It’s a safe bet that some South Carolina lawmakers will keep suggesting casino gambling as a way to pay for our state’s long-overdue road needs. But the General Assembly has repeatedly and wisely resisted past pitches for that supposedly easy money — and it should do so again.

As reported in Monday’s Post and Courier, House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, wants to let voters decide, via statewide referendum, whether to legalize casino gambling.

Rep. Rutherford made his case this way last month: “If you have casinos on the coast and dedicate them as a funding source on our roads, you have something that goes into fixing a problem.”

But if you have casinos on the coast you also have other problems, including a notoriously unreliable source of funding from a cruel tax of sorts imposed to a significant degree on the poor, the gullible, and compulsive gamblers.

Yes, the costly tab for fixing our highways is unlikely to be fully met by Gov. Haley’s call for a gas-tax hike in combination with an income-tax cut.

Yes, the S.C. Education Lottery has produced more than $3.4 billion in state revenue since its launch in early 2002.

Yet such casino attractions as slot machines, video poker, roulette and card games exert a much stronger grip on habitual gamblers than lottery tickets.

And Israel Posner, executive director of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey’s Institute on Gaming, told our reporter that if South Carolina did enter the casino marketplace, our state government would likely have to settle for a smaller share of the take than states like New York and Pennsylvania. As the casino business struggles, resort developers entering new markets are able to demand a higher percentage of the revenue.

Plus, in 2013 the Pew Research Center, citing a study published in the journal Applied Economics, reported: “When casinos come to town, an increase in public corruption is likely to follow. Or so claim two economists who studied federal corruption conviction rates in states before and after they legalized casino gambling.”

Mississippi led the way during the 1985-2000 period covered by that research. As Pew put it: “In that 15-year period, Mississippi had almost four federal corruption convictions per 10,000 state employees. Louisiana was second, followed by Illinois and South Dakota — all states with casinos.”

Meanwhile, casinos have seen an extended losing streak with numerous closings in recent years. In Mississippi, casinos’ total revenue dropped by 25 percent from $2.89 billion in 2007 to $2.07 billion last year.

The gambling-based economy of Atlantic City, N.J., also is mired in a long-term slump. As The Associated Press put it last week after the sale of the Revel Casino there fell through: “Nothing screams ‘failure’ louder than a $2.4 billion casino that nobody wants, even at a 96 percent discount.”

And no persuasive argument supports the long-shot notion of fixing South Carolina’s roads by gambling on legalizing casinos.