No. 31541 State of West Virginia ex rel. Rev. Jim Lewis and John Cooney v. West
Virginia Economic Development Grant Committee; West Virginia Economic
Development Authority; City of Charleston; Kanawha County Commission;
City of Huntington; and Ohio County Commission
No. 31564 Greenbrier County Coalition Against Gambling Expansion and Cabell County
Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, unincorporated associations v. West
Virginia Lottery Commission and John Musgrave, its Director
West Virginia Racing Association, Intervenor
Starcher, C.J., concurring and lamenting:
I have two opinions about this case - a professional opinion, and a personal opinion. I will first summarize these two opinions, and then discuss them separately.
Professionally, I think that the Legislature, which has overwhelmingly and
repeatedly voted to establish a massive, statewide, government-operated gambling system
in West Virginia - and to finance a significant piece of our public budget from that system - has the legal right to do so under our Constitution.
Personally, I question whether it is right or wise for my government to set up and operate this massive, statewide, government-operated gambling system - and to use, in managing this system, thousands of privately-managed sites that are impossible to supervise and monitor; and to also use thousands of gambling devices that are known to be especially dangerous and addictive; and then to make it next to impossible for future generations to cancel, revamp, or restrict this system, because of the legal obligation to pay off bonds that are based on gambling revenues.
Regardless of one's ultimate position on the wisdom of this course, it is beyond dispute that West Virginia, as a result of this decision by the Legislature, does now and will in the future increasingly suffer a substantial amount of tragic harm and injury to individuals, families, businesses, and communities.
Under the system created by the Legislature, we can expect to have between twenty to forty (closer to forty) thousand West Virginia adults, and about five thousand West Virginia teenagers - at any given time - who are problem or pathological gamblers. The effects of these thousands of West Virginians' severe gambling problems - on their families, jobs, schools, communities, and households - will directly and negatively affect several hundred thousand other West Virginians: family members, employers, etc. Many personal bankruptcies will originate in gambling problems, as will many incidents of crime, suicide, divorce, and domestic violence. Less than five percent of West Virginians with gambling problems will seek help; of those, perhaps half will be able to recover significantly. (See footnote 1)
This, in rough summary, is the tragic human cost (in numbers) that our Legislature has decided our State will pay, to get the benefits of widespread, state-operated, convenience gambling.
Each of these tragic numbers, of course, has a human face.
When I think about the instant lottery ticket system that the Legislature has created in every community in our State, the first image that comes to my mind is the memory of two poorly-dressed women whom I recently saw, as they were sitting in a beat-up car, outside a convenience store.
The women were feverishly scratching the surfaces of their lottery tickets to see if they had a winning number. When they were done, they headed inside to buy some more tickets.
This, I thought, is how we are financing our senior citizens' centers - on the backs of these low-income people's wishful imagination that they might miraculously escape their materially impoverished existence by hitting it big.
I thought of the Bible verse - insofar as you do it to the least of these, you do it to me. What would Jesus think of balancing the State's budget on the dollars of these poor women?
And when I think about the thousands of video slot machines that are spread across the state, I think of a middle-class family I know where a wonderful parent became addicted to video machine gambling - the crack cocaine of gambling - and in a few months, lost tens of thousands of dollars. (The speed and ease of play of video slots rapidly accelerates the addiction process for vulnerable individuals.)
This, I thought, is how a building in some politician's home town will be financed - on the back of a family's crisis of addiction and suffering.
I do not want to be misunderstood. In no way do I condemn gambling per se. People should be able to gamble legally, it seems to me - but only if we devise and put in place a system that contains effective, proven structural checks and safeguards that will minimize the terrible problems and harms associated with legalized gambling.
It appears to me, however, that the system that the Legislature has created - massive, statewide, convenience gambling - is pretty much the exact opposite of a sound approach.
In West Virginia - instead of conducting gambling in a limited number of publicly managed and overseen sites, where the problems of addictive, compulsive, pathological, and excessive gambling can be avoided, identified, and responded to - the Legislature has proliferated the most fiscally regressive and psychologically dangerous gambling devices, like instant lottery and video slot machines - in thousands of decentralized, privately managed sites, where all of the financial incentives are to maximize revenue, and to ignore problem and pathological gambling.
Furthermore, the Legislature does not even allow gamblers to have the best chance of success, or at least to prolong their entertainment as they lose their money. Instead, the Legislature sets high odds against gamblers (much higher than Las Vegas). Then, the massive gambling revenues, well above the costs of doing business, are treated as a cash cow for our government, which becomes dependent upon these revenues. The Legislature is even issuing bonds that must be paid from money taken from our State's children decades from now, when they become gamblers. (See footnote 2) Talk about a credit-card government!
To me, this is a dismal situation. For these reasons, I personally question the wisdom of the course that the Legislature has chosen.
Accordingly, I have written not a dissent - but a lament.