Can Californians Gamble Their Way Out of the Budget Deficit?

No, but revenue from taxing online gambling could bring in some much needed money -- perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars -- to the golden state. According to a Field Poll released last week, a majority of California voters -- 53 percent -- support the legalization and taxing of Internet poker. Support for this proposal is highest -- at 73 percent -- among voters under 40 years old. In addition, more Democrats and Independents than Republicans support the idea of licensing online gambling and taxing its proceeds.

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Support for the legalizing of taxing of online gambling may represent a larger voter sentiment in favor of so-called "sin taxes." Members of the electorate typically favor taxing revenue from bad or questionable behavior, such as smoking and marijuana use. Whether online gambling falls into that category in the minds of California voters is unclear.

Our lawmakers have floated the idea of legalizing and taxing Internet gambling for years. However, proposals have been mired in fighting between gambling interests. Perhaps that squabbling will soon end. Owners of racetracks, card rooms, and Indian casinos are slated to meet soon to hash out a compromise and present that compromise to our lawmakers.

Critics of such proposals worry about the consequences of legalizing online gambling. It could make it easier for ill-experienced players to bet too much and could be harmful for those with gambling additions. However, gambling is already legal in portions of the state, and our neighboring state of Nevada. While online gambling will make it easier for many to wager unwisely, it does not present a new option would-be gamblers.

While fears about consequences to individual gamblers are not unwarranted, neither are worries about the state's lack of funds. We need money, now. This is not a time when we can be picky about the source of revenue coming into the state.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user alancleaver_2000. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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