Louisville Magazine

APR 2012

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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Raising Money for Free [ Bob Hill ] A s we all struggle with the recent — and ancient — issues of taxes, not-so-original sin, Kentucky horse racing and Hoosier casino gambling, some historical context is in order. Tis whole gentle hypocrisy of using gambling dollars as tax avoidance has been around for a long time, as has special legislation aiding the already rich and well connected. Consider that not only did Virginia rabble-rouser Patrick Henry shout out, "Give me liberty or give me death!" to get our fledgling nation fired up against those tea-tax-crazed Brits, but he also added — or could have — "and I say we establish a lottery right here in dear Richmond to fund the revolt before we die." And sure enough, in November 1776, just four months after our glorious July 4th declaration telling Prestigious universities such as Harvard and Yale were funded through early lotteries, and many early churches were built via lotteries back in those dark ages before bingo. the British where to stick their tea tax, the Second Continen- tal Congress did authorize a $10 million lottery to fund the American Revolutionary War. And why didn't we learn about that in our history classes at George Washington High School? Alas, the 1776 lottery was a colossal failure — not enough folks in the freedom fight wanted to buy the tickets to pay for it. So the Continental Congress, being in the tough spot of asking for tax dollars to do battle with a country whose taxes had ignited the insurrection, did what any congress will almost always do in economic stress: It printed more worth- less paper money. Please fast-forward to recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which a fear-mongered, flag-waving Congress bravely sent our then poorly equipped troops into a $1 trillion, corrup- tion-riddled and now Koran-burning quagmire while never bothering to ask a then perhaps willing American populace to pay for them. It still hasn't. And yes, Virginia, all 13 original Colonies did estab- lish lotteries to raise money. Prestigious universities such as Harvard and Yale were funded through early lotteries, and many early churches were built via lotteries back in those dark ages before bingo. Te long history of the Louisville Free Public Library includes an 1871 episode in which a "Public Library of Kentucky" located here was to be funded by a nationwide lottery. Some $6,250,000 was raised, with only a scandalous $424,396 making its way to Louisville bookshelves. Overdue- book fines might have been more lucrative. Louisiana tried to rebuild from Civil War destruction through a lottery operated by a corrupt and fabulously success- ful carpetbagger syndicate from New York — not exactly what Robert E. Lee had in mind. While wagering on horse races has been going on in Kentucky ever since the Daniel Boone entry "Wilderness Trail" won the Boonesborough Derby in 1775, [128] LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 4.12 the Louisiana scandal was so great that in 1890 Kentucky banned all lotteries, as did most other Southern states. Back came the lotteries in 1989 in both Kentucky and Indiana following statewide election approval, with the latter adding "riverboat" casino gambling to its state income in 1993; regressive taxation somehow always floats better on water. With it came that fine line — at least in the Kentucky General Assembly — that lotteries, betting on horses and the occasional "charitable gambling" events are fine, but casinos are more dangerously sinful — the gambling moral equivalent of being a little bit pregnant. Fast-forward again to the present. We want and need bridges but don't want tolls, or to raise the federal gasoline tax, which has been at the same 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993. And where once people cried, "Lock 'em up and throw away the key" about criminals, we're now letting them out early to avoid paying for new jails. Beyond that, all sorts of social agen- cies designed to keep people healthy, educated, employed and out of jail are starving for income. Indiana — with a state legislature and government composed of actual adults — has casino income to help pay for its needs. In poor ol' Kentucky, legislation that could have allowed Kentuckians to express their views on casino gambling never really got out of the gate, with the blame equally spread across the equally ill-prepared, irresponsible and incompetent. It also left Churchill Downs — a horse track often treated as a sacred cow — again out of the casino running. Let's give a little extra credit to Sen. David Williams, whose legacy will surely read, "a very bright and politically savvy jerk." Personally, I have no use for casino gambling; a lot of people are harmed by it. In the long run, you cannot win at the gaming tables, and sitting in front of a slot machine for hours seems about as entertaining to me as riding through a car wash — no metaphor intended. On the other hand, what are the odds Kentucky will get the money it needs through higher taxes?

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