Tuesday, May 11, 2010

States banking on vice for revenue

Voters and politicians in Ohio used to slap down attempts to expand gambling in their state. But last week, many cheered as demolition crews razed an old auto-parts plant in Columbus to make way for a new casino.

Facing high unemployment and the aftermath of a $3.2 billion state-budget shortfall, Ohioans voted to allow casinos in November. Gov. Ted Strickland dropped his longtime opposition to video lottery machines, proposing to add them to racetracks to generate new tax revenue...

For fiscal 2011, 38 states project combined budget shortfalls of $89 billion, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan policy research group. Thirty-one states expect budget gaps totaling $73.5 billion in 2012. As a result, says Todd Haggerty, an analyst at the group, lawmakers are "trying anything and everything in order to bring their budgets into balance."

Oakland, Calif., began taxing sales of medical marijuana last year. Now at least a half- dozen states are weighing measures to allow some legal pot sales. Others have loosened decades-long restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales. And about a dozen, like Ohio, have discussed or passed plans to ease restrictions on gambling.