In a state that taxes everything that moves, you know things are bad when the governor touts the restoration of a sales tax exemption for clothing and footwear under $25 as “middle-class tax relief.”

But if Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has his way, the tax cut for people who buy underwear at Walmart will be offset by the expansion of gambling in Connecticut. In order to take more money out of our pockets to fill the voracious maw of the spending class in Hartford, the General Assembly passed a budget this week that permits Keno, a highly addictive video numbers game that essentially offers a new lottery every five minutes.

Is this what our quest for revenue has come to? It’s sad enough that Connecticut is already the casino gambling mecca of New England. And now we want offer a game with high odds and quick turnover that entices the impulsive and vulnerable into giving up more of their money as quickly as possible?

Lest we forget, studies have consistenly shown that racial minorities and those in lower-income, lower-education demographics are disproportionately drawn to numbers games such as Keno, the slots, and the lottery. Those same folks are far more likely to smoke, too, yet health advocates continue to push for cigarette-tax increases.

Make no mistake about it. This type of state-sponsored gambling is really no more than a tax on the less fortunate among us. And it’s currently being proposed by people who often lecture us about the wealthy not paying their fair share in taxes. Evidently, they think the state tax code also lets the poor off too easy.

On my way into the studios of WTIC Newstalk 1080 for my appearance on former Gov. John Rowland’s show last Friday, I stopped on Migeon Avenue in Torrington to fill my gas tank. Inside, a working stiff covered in joint compound was buying almost $100 worth of lottery tickets. He spoke broken English and looked like he could barely afford the T-shirt on his back. Yet he was willing to fork over probably a third of his weekly paycheck to the state for the thinnest of odds.

Barely two years ago, we were hit with the second largest tax increase in state history. In return, Gov. Malloy got modest concessions from the state employee unions and agreed to lay off very few of them. So our options are limited. Another walloping tax hike will cause our few remaining businesses to flee the state. And we can’t really reduce the size of government because the governor gave away the store to the unions that elected him.

So we are left with prying money from the wallets of the poor? For estimated revenues of a little more than $30 million over two years?

The irony here is that the state will essentially need permission to offer Keno from the two Indian casinos in eastern Connecticut. Under a deal first negotiated in 1993 by former Gov. Lowell Weicker with the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans, the state receives 25 percent of gross slot machine revenue from the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Last year the state received $344.6 million from the casinos — $30.9 million less than lawmakers had budgeted. Nevertheless, the fruit of the poison tree has been tasted.

Part of the Weicker deal was that the tribes had exclusive rights to casino-style gambling in the state. Not surprisingly, casino officials claim that Keno is casino gambling. While no formal deal has been reached, the adopted state budget authorizes the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, which will run the Keno operation, to give both tribes up to 12.5 percent of gross Keno revenues.

Malloy had been considering offering Keno as recently as December 2011 as part of a strategy of creating “a more aggressive lottery.” If we’re going to outlaw “aggressive panhandling” in many of America’s cities, then why don’t we do away with the idea of an “aggressive lottery” while we’re at it?

No, backing away from a dependence on gambling isn’t on the state’s agenda. Some lawmakers aren’t satisfied with two casinos, numerous lotteries, and Keno. To the horror of anti-gambling advocates, a few Democratic legislators are lining up to support allowing 7,500 slot machines in three Connecticut cities.

The most telling fact in this discussion is that there are very few state programs available for problem gambling in Connecticut, but plenty for drug and alcohol addiction. Why? As one social worker told The CT Mirror, “The state benefits greatly off of gambling, not off of drugs and alcohol.”

Of all the tricks and regrettable legislation enacted during the 2013 legislative session in Hartford, the expansion of government gambling is the most shameful. Why doesn’t the state drop all pretense of virtue and get into the prostitution business, too? Of course, some would say it already is.

Terry Cowgill blogs at and was an editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. He can be found on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, is a Substack columnist and is the retired managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him here.

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