“All of the money you made will never buy back your soul.” —Bob Dylan
Over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to be startled by the daily news. I will admit, however, that when the Texas Tribune recently ran a story suggesting the late Sheldon Adelson had engaged 51 lobbyists in the state over the course of several months, spending millions of dollars in fees to lobby for casino gaming, well… I was taken aback. That is a lot of people and that is a lot of cake, remembering that when I started in the business you could damn near build a casino for the kind of money that is being thrown at the lobbyists in Texas.
Also in the news of late have been stories of the phenomenal sums that have been spent on the recent election and related events following the election. And, it has been revealed that a few politicians who recently announced their retirements say that one of the motivations for the decision is the extraordinary and never-ending effort needed to continually raise money in order to remain relevant and stay in the system.
In line with this is the fascinating language of “being primaried” that we are all learning. This expression suggests if a politician does not do what the monied interests want him to do that they will defund the existing politician and buy another one to take his or her place.
The point is, our political system is awash in donor money, and surprisingly enough, most of those people who provide money to lobbyists and politicians want something of value in exchange for their expenditures.
When I was a child, I had an iron contraption that was comprised of a metal base with a cast-iron bear on it. It functioned as a bank. I would hustle a coin from someone and put it into the coin slot and pull a small lever. The coin would fall into a locked container below and the bear would dance (spin around). I do believe this succinctly represents our modern political situation, in that if one gives a politician money, the politician will dance for a bit as the money disappears.
My frustration with this situation is that the public policy initiatives impacting gaming that politicians need to address don’t always get done because no one is throwing tons of money at them. It seems the politician’s behavior is essentially always transactional and not about doing the right thing. This does not sync well with what should be of paramount importance to the gaming industry, and that is supporting public policies that work toward industry sustainability.
Two things I believe are critical in the gaming industry for creating sustainability are quality regulation and working to ensure that there are protections for the vulnerable. I do not see these two goals being pushed by well-funded lobbying efforts—and that is unfortunate, for most legislatures have become, to use the term coined by conservative writer P.J O’Rourke, a “parliament of whores.”
When it does come to good regulation and protections for the vulnerable, I have noticed the approach is very much like discussions about the weather in that everyone seems to talk about it, but nobody seems to do much about it.
I believe that what needs to happen in the areas of regulation and protections for the vulnerable is politicians need to learn how to do the right thing. This is about that thing called leadership. While it is hard for politicians to line their pockets by doing the right thing, it actually should be considered an essential part of the job.
I am not optimistic, however, for I just moved back to Pennsylvania and noted several newspaper articles discussing the recent appointment of a Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board commissioner. These articles basically suggested political favoritism and little else was very much a part of the appointment decision. Moreover, one does not want to forget early last year when the governor of Nevada moved to gut a very small, earmarked fund dedicated to protecting the vulnerable.
I believe that had there been a well-funded effort to threaten the person who appointed the new commissioner in Pennsylvania with being primaried if the politician did not appoint a truly qualified and competent candidate for the commission, or if the governor of Nevada was told by his largest donor to not mess around with the funding for the problem gambling program—well, I believe that things would be different today in Pennsylvania and Nevada.
The point that needs to be understood is that our politicians cannot just wait until someone inserts a coin before they will begin to dance, for there are times they simply need to do the right thing. This is true with respect to sustainability-enhancing actions like providing quality regulation and supporting viable programs for protecting the vulnerable. It is called leadership, and it would be nice to see more of our politicians give it a try.