Can Sin Save Us?

If anyone were to dare to tackle it, the work of fixing California's budget system would be hard and take many years. So Californians and their leaders persist in looking for easy ways out.

The latest quick-fix fixation is sin. Californians are about to be told, via a November ballot initiative, that legalizing and taxation marijuana growth and distribution can help dig us out of the hole. And right now, the legislature, desperate for cash, is debating whether to get into the Internet poker business.

SB 1485, sponsored by Sen. Rod Wright of Inglewood, would let companies bid for the right to run three state-sanctioned Internet poker franchises. The companies would have to share 20 percent of what they make with the state. To give these state-sanctioned games a boost, playing Internet poker with any other company or web site would be illegal in California.

This is a bad idea. Not only are such games highly addictive, but sin taxes have a long history of producing less than promised. (A group calling itself Poker Voters of America has just released a study claiming that the legislation would produce more than $500 million a year for the state). California has another problem. Indian tribes have the exclusive right to casino-style gaming in the state, so it's not clear whether such legislation could survive legal challenges.

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