Fireworks, And Freedom, On The Fourth

What could be more American than fireworks on the Fourth of July?  These days . . . maybe a desire for increased tax revenue by state governments?

Richard has an interesting article in the Chicago Tribune today about fireworks sales in Indiana stores that are just across the state line from Chicago.  There are bunch of those stores, ready to serve the insatiable fireworks appetites of Chicago area residents, and not surprisingly the weeks around the Fourth of July are their biggest sales period.

Illinois strictly prohibits fireworks sales while neighboring Indiana broadly permits them, and recently Indiana loosened its regulations to allow out-of-staters to buy fireworks more easily.  The result is a proliferation of stores and sales.  Sales of consumer fireworks in the U.S. now exceed $660 million, and 42 states allow the sale of consumer fireworks to the maximum extent permitted by federal law — largely because increased consumer sales means increased tax revenues.

The Nanny State impulse is at work in our society, with know-it-all regulators and advocacy group trying to dictate what we consume and what we do, but the zeal for more tax revenue seems to be trumping the notion that government exists to protect us from every risk and form of sin we might undertake.  Perhaps the back story of the American Revolution has been turned on its head, and taxation and freedom now go hand in hand.  If the hunger for taxes has convinced state governments to permit Americans to freely purchase explosive devices and detonate them at their whim, maybe we shouldn’t be that concerned about the increasing intrusion of government into our personal liberties.

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Gambling On Gambling

Ohio regulators recently released a report about revenues earned by Ohio casinos.  Coming less than a month before the fourth and final casino, in Cincinnati, is to open, the report indicates that the casino takes may be slowing.

IMG_2928The question for now is whether the Ohio gaming market is saturated.  Ohio used to have no casinos, but it was surrounded by casinos in Michigan, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Indiana.  Now four full-blown Ohio casinos have been added to the mix, as well as “racinos” — horsetracks that have slot machines.  In the Columbus area, Scioto Downs features more than 2,000 machines and is packing in people who just want to play the slots.  Some Columbus gamblers apparently think the slots are “looser” at Scioto Downs than at the Hollywood Casino, and they’d rather play where they have a better chance of getting a jackpot.

Ohio regulators seemingly recognize that the market for gambling isn’t as robust as was forecast when Ohio voters first approved casinos.  The Ohio Department of Taxation originally estimated $1.9 billion in annual tax revenues from the casinos, but this year’s state budget anticipates less than $1 billion in tax revenues from the casinos.  With new casinos coming on line, racinos providing competition, and casinos in surrounding states trying to hold on to their Ohio clientele, who knows whether that number is realistic or just another gamble?

I’ve always questioned the credibility of casino revenue and job forecasts, because I believe there are only a limited number of people who are interested in gambling.  People who don’t want to gamble aren’t going to start just because a casino opens nearby, and people who do like to gamble can only go to so many places on so many occasions.  If the Ohio gambling market isn’t growing, then all of the casinos, racinos and other competitors are just going to be tussling over the size of their pieces of an unchanging pie.