It’s all gambling; only difference is the flashing lights

Democratic lawmakers in South Carolina want the state to consider allowing casino gambling to bridge revenue gaps. File

The Democrats said they would try to legalize casinos in the state this year and, oddly enough, those politicians actually kept their word.

Of course, they are on a fool’s errand.

No way does South Carolina open the door to organized gambling. Never happen. Well, not counting the state lottery.

You have to assume Dems play the Powerball a lot, because they are clearly suckers for astronomical longshots. But they do have one little glimmer of hope.

See, the Republicans have to fix South Carolina’s crumbling roads. That is imperative because nothing makes people madder than sitting in traffic and shelling out $200 for front-end alignments.

And since the GOP controls everything in the state, they get all the blame. And as of today, the state has let $40 billion in road repairs go untended.

So now everyone is all about the roads. They have convened committees, thrown out solutions. Trouble is, Gov. Nikki Haley and her Republican colleagues in the Legislature can’t agree on how to pay for the work.

This may be because some of their ideas require folks to suspend mathematical logic nearly as much as gambling does.

And there’s that glimmer of hope for the Dems.

Last month, Haley — who swore she wouldn’t support a gas tax increase — proposed a gas tax increase to fix the roads.

In fairness, she would offset this tax increase by significantly cutting the state income tax, which would be a net tax cut for most people.

Some conservatives loved the idea (which is suspiciously similar to an idea first offered by Sen. Larry Grooms). Even that Grover guy gave his blessing. Although why anyone cares what someone from Sesame Street thinks is a mystery — but that’s another column.

Republican lawmakers, however, hate the governor’s idea. While Haley is correct that cutting the state income tax rate from 7 percent down to 5 percent would make South Carolina more competitive, legislators are the ones who will have to pay the bills long after she’s gone.

See, the governor’s tax cut would cost the state $1.8 billion a year, which is 25 percent of the state-funded portion of the budget.

Even the most egregious political liars, who claim everything can be funded by cutting fat, can’t whack 25 percent of the budget. The Republicans know this. They have been shredding it for the past decade to make up for a recession and their last ill-advised tax cut.

Haley claims the state can absorb that $1.8 billion a year loss through growth. But in the past five years, tax collections have grown by just $1.5 billion. Sure, she says, but things are going to pick up.

Yeah, blackjack offers better odds.

Casinos are inevitable.

South Carolina is one of only 10 states in the nation that doesn’t have them. Even our spiritual sister states — Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi — got in on the action.

Granted, that’s not a good argument for casinos, seeing as how those states still aren’t exactly rocking the national averages.

But casino proponents say these businesses would bring in enough revenue to fix our pitiful roads. Pennsylvania takes in more than $1 billion a year in taxes off casinos.

Now, South Carolina would have to be a little less mercenary to attract business, but even half would give the Department of Transportation enough money to crank up the road graders and start laying asphalt.

On paper it makes a lot of sense. The reason Republicans will ignore the idea — aside from the fact that it is a Democratic proposal — is family values.

They know Upstate conservatives would stone them for embracing such an evil vice ... probably while they are dropping their kids off around the corner at USC, which they attend on lottery scholarships.

But the fact is, the Legislature is going to have to do something. There are serious needs in the state and it takes money to take care of them. The politicians either have to raise taxes, let the state fall into the ocean, or find a new source of revenue.

Like casinos.

To see what the world looks like with casinos, just go hang out in Cherokee. Every day dozens of vans and buses filled with senior citizens pull up at Harrah’s — all of them coming just to play the slot. Many of those mature gamblers are from South Carolina.

Lawmakers ought to drive up there and take a look before they say no to the Democrats.

They will find North Carolina roads are quite nice.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.