The use of gambling revenue to fund societal institutions like public education raises a challenging ethical question. While some people feel it is okay for the government to dangle temptations like slot machines and keno in front of its citizens in the name of societal good, others feel it is unfair and morally unjust to do so.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo is a supporter of dangling temptations. He recently promised his citizens he won't raise taxes to cover the state's $1.3 billion budget shortage. Instead, he plans to use revenue from the state's keno-like gambling game, Quick Draw, to help fill the gap. Since 1995, Quick Draw has padded New York's public education budget with a handsome 25% revenue. In his new state budget plan, Cuomo proposes to increase public access to the highly controversial Quick Draw game in order to soothe the state's hurting economy without raising taxes.
What is Quick Draw?
Initiated in New York in 1995, Quick Draw is a fast paced video number game in which gamblers wager money on 10 digits between 1 and 80.
Gamblers write down their chosen numbers, hand them to a bar tender or waitress with a $1 or $2 wager, and sit down at a table with their eyes glued to the screen, hoping for the best.
Quick Draw Growth and Change Throughout the Years
When it was first introduced in 1995, Quick Draw was only permitted in larger bars, restaurants, and other facilities over 2500 square feet where food and alcohol were served. Gamblers could access the game 13 hours out of every day, and the minimum betting age was 21.
In 2010, the amount of time the game could be played was increased from 13 to 23-and-a-half hours per day. The amount of revenue the game contributed to New York's education budget that year was $103 million.
In 2011, game locations were expanded to include establishments that do not serve food. The quality of the computer graphics on the Quick Draw TV screen were highly improved that year. The amount of revenue contributed to New York's education budget was $124.5 million, an increase of approximately $19 million over 2010.
In 2012, Quick Draw revenue contributed $138 million to New York's education budget, a $35 million increase over 2010.
Cuomo's Plan for Quick Draw in 2013 and Beyond
Cuomo, a Democratic governor in his third year of service, has proposed that Quick Draw locations be increased to include spaces smaller than 2500 feet that do not serve alcohol. This move would expand the total number of locations in New York by about 780, opening up more corner store opportunities for gamblers to invest their money in the system.
Cuomo also wants to reduce the age at which citizens can play the game from 21 to 18. The theory is that this age requirement reduction would inflate the number of people playing Quick Draw, thus increasing revenue. Ironically, adults under 21 in bars and other alcohol-serving establishments would be able to legally wager their money on Quick Draw, yet they would not be legally able to order a beer.
Cuomo hypothesizes that these suggested changes would increase Quick Draw revenue by $12 million the first year and $24 million in the years after that, providing New York's struggling economy and educational system with a much-needed boost.
What Critics Are Saying About Cuomo's Plan for Expansion
Critics of Cuomo's Quick Draw expansion plan say that lowering the gambling age to 18 would cause a world of hurt for a new generation of gambling addicts. Steven Cymbrowitz, chairman of Assembly's Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee, has likened Quick Draw to "video crack." This refers to the highly addictive, fast paced nature of the game, in which gratification can be attained almost instantly. It also refers to the financially destructive nature of the game, in which large sums of money can be wagered and lost in a matter of hours.
Opponents also point out that, while the New York governor is willing to put forth the funds and effort for Quick Draw's expansion, the state has yet to increase its spending on therapeutic programs for addicted gamblers. If New York is going to dangle this extra temptation in front of its citizens, they argue, the state should also be willing to cough up the money for additional addiction programs to help counteract Quick Draw's hazardous side effects.
What Supporters Are Saying About Cuomo's Quick Draw Expansion
Those who advocate Cuomo's Quick Draw expansion claim that the availability of Quick Draw is no more detrimental to the public than the availability of other gambling activities like scratch off tickets, slot machines (click here), and the like.
Tough Ethical Questions, No Easy Answers
Gambling revenue can be a significant source of income for state budgets. Because the cash collected through gambling revenue is essentially given up voluntarily by citizens, it can lessen the need for taxation. As the United States struggles with an ailing economy, it is understandable that politicians like Cuomo would look to increased gambling revenue as a way to pad budgets and avoid raising taxes. Supporters of Cuomo's strategy maintain that the societal rate of pathological gambling is not worsened by the presence of more gambling opportunities. Critics of Cuomo's strategy say that too many innocent people will fall prey to the temptation of Quick Draw and suffer significant financial harm at the hands of the state government.