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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
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February 19, 2009
If ever a single dramatic news story offered all the evidence that should be required to kill a dangerous proposal in the Nebraska Legislature, I believe I read such a news story in The World-Herald last Friday and Saturday.
The story Friday featured a color picture of a smiling woman from Gretna holding a big replica of a check that represented her winning $204,000 from a “Wheel of Fortune” slot machine in Las Vegas.
“Wheel of Tragedy” might have been a more appropriate name, since her 2006 big-buck jackpot—absolutely no skill or brains involved, of course—undoubtedly nourished the social disease of legalized gambling.
Thirty-two months later, Celeste Baumert stood in a Douglas County Jail courtroom accused of embezzling more than $56,000 from two small businesses in the metro area. She allegedly owes more than $243,000 to Council Bluffs gambling casinos.
The accountant and tax preparer—with dozens of Omaha area police officers among her clients—could face up to 20 years in prison on each of two felony theft charges if convicted.
Nebraska State Patrol investigation revealed that Baumert, 48, had significant activity at the Bluffs casinos since August, 2006—two months after she hit the jackpot in Las Vegas.
The legislative proposal to which I’m referring is Resolution 6CA proposed by Senators Russ Karpisek of Wilber and Deb Fischer of Valentine. If approved by the voters in November 2010, the amendment would legalize the placing of up to 3,500 electronic gambling devices (commonly referred to as “slot machines”) at up to seven racetracks.
The estimated total that would be lost each year on 3,025 slot machines is $221 million. An estimated $88 million would go to the State Highway Trust Fund, $86 million to racetrack operators and $46 million would be spread among such things as larger purses at racetracks and improvement of thoroughbred breeding and the quarter horse industry. One percent--$2.21 million—would go to the “Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund.”
Yes, yes, I know. There are the old arguments that most of the money lost in Council Bluffs casinos is lost by Nebraska gamblers. So, this simplistic argument goes, why not capture a major part of that Nebraska-generated gambling revenue by promoting gambling big-time on the Nebraska side of the river?
That’s about the same as saying that gambling may be a social cancer but let’s move it across the state line in Nebraska so we rather than Iowa can keep the revenue generated by the social cancer—hopefully even more Nebraska-generated revenue than is currently being lost on the Iowa side of the river. The amendment would provide for the slot machines to be located at racetracks closer to more Nebraskans —including at least two new racetracks, perhaps as far west as Grand Island or beyond.
Nebraskans in recent years have turned down casino gambling proposals when the issue has made its way to a statewide ballot. There is no reason to believe that the result will be any different if the legalized gambling issue makes it to the ballot again, even if it has been tricked up in a supposedly more attractive fashion, to benefit highway construction and the thoroughbred racing industry.
Senators Karpisek and Fisher should do the realistic thing and withdraw Legislative Resolution 6CA, saving the Legislature from wasting valuable time on it.
* * *
On and on it goes, local sports reporters and commentators allowing the spokesman for the owners of the Omaha Royals to go unchallenged in assertions like “we could get a better deal somewhere else…but we really love Omaha.”
Why in the world doesn’t some Omaha journalist pin down Alan Stein as to where the AAA franchise affiliated with the Kansas City Royals could be moved under more favorable terms than are currently being negotiated with Sarpy County?
Stein could be challenged to at least give some indication in what part of the country and what size city he would find local interests who would like to subsidize an AAA franchise and how the terms in that city would be more favorable than Sarpy County is willing to offer.
And, perhaps most important of all, why doesn’t some local journalist find out if the Kansas City Royals would supply players of AAA caliber for the Stein-overseen franchise in another city, perhaps one not as large as the Omaha metropolitan area and perhaps located farther from Kansas City than Omaha is?
Instead of such obvious questions to Stein, we read journalistic rhetorical questions like these:
“Why is Stein doing this? Why wouldn’t he just go to Sugarland, Texas or Vancouver or a place where he could build a bigger park and get more revenue.”
I don’t now why Sugarland, Texas or Vancouver continue to merit frequent journalistic mention without any apparent effort on the part of Omaha journalists to make inquiries in Sugarland, a suburban community close to Houston, or Vancouver, half a continent away from Kansas City, Missouri.
What are the chances for an AAA franchise in Sugarland, Texas in the shadow of the Houston Astros major league team or an AAA franchise in Vancouver, an area where the Seattle Mariners already have an AAA affiliate just down the highway in Tacoma?
The facts are that among the 30 major league baseball teams, nine of their AAA affiliates are in the same state, some as close as Denver and Colorado Springs and Seattle and Tacoma. Thirteen AAA affiliates are in an adjoining state and five are located where only one other state intervenes. Three have longer distances between the major league city and the AAA affiliate—the Toronto Blue Jays-Las Vegas AAA affiliate being the longest stretch.
It seems to me that for the Kansas City Royals, the Omaha-area is the best AAA fit. There is not any other available relatively close metropolitan area with the possible exception of Wichita (where the Royals, incidentally, have a AA affiliate).
A Royals tradition is firmly established in Omaha and the two cities, following the major league/AAA affiliate pattern, are relatively close together, making for easier travel both for club personnel and, importantly, Royals’ fans from the Omaha metropolitan area.
If I were Alan Stein, I wouldn’t relish the thought of trying to negotiate an agreement with the Kansas City Royals to supply players for my AAA franchise relocated in Vancouver, either on the American or the Canadian side of the border.
Some might ask why I don’t pursue the obvious unanswered questions about the future of the Omaha Royals franchise. First, I’m not being paid to do the job of well-paid journalists supposedly working fulltime at such matters.
Columnists traditionally observe the passing scene, raise questions and use their background of experience and knowledge in offering comments, often supported by some research. The job of editorial writers and columnists has been described as watching the battle from the hills, then coming down to shoot the wounded. I think we work at a higher level than that, but you get the point—and we do frequently figuratively shoot at those who we think deserve it, whether previously wounded or not.
* * *
From his hometown of McCook in southwestern Nebraska to the national political stage in Washington, Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson is getting appropriate attention these days.
In McCook, funds are being raised for a bronze statue depicting Nelson as a Boy Scout, proudly wearing the merit badges he earned to become an Eagle Scout, an early indication of the leadership potential which led on to the Nebraska governorship and then to the United States Senate.
In Washington, Nelson has gained recognition as a moderate Democrat who can help build coalitions of like-minded Democratic and Republican moderates who can provide a relatively small but sometimes decisive block of votes which help resolve controversial issues and move them through the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada made a point of publicly thanking Nelson for his leadership in working with Republicans to trim some of the more controversial proposals from the multi-billion-dollar economic “stimulus” proposal backed by President Obama but in some danger of being stalled in the Senate. Obama singled out Nelson for praise during a White House briefing for regional newspapers, including The World-Herald.
Praise for Nelson has come also from some Republicans of considerable stature. Sitting with Nelson at the Alfalfa Club luncheon the day of the club’s traditional black tie dinner, John Warner, freshly retired after 30 years as a Republican Senator from Virginia, leaned across the table and gestured towards Nelson: “He’s a good one. Keep your eye on him.”
I’ve been keeping my eye on Nelson since the days when his political ambitions culminated in his election as governor in 1990, and I have generally liked what I have seen.
* * *
Speaking of attendance at the Alfalfa Club luncheon in Washington last month, I had occasion to encounter Sam Nunn, former Democratic Senator from Georgia who disappointed a good many Americans by not becoming a candidate for the presidency.
After the luncheon Nunn passed by our table and I started to introduce myself. Nunn politely interrupted with something like, “I know you. We hunted pheasants together with Jim Exon.”
The pheasant-hunting trip was to the late Don and Olive Forney’s ranch in Rushville in northwestern Nebraska. I can’t recall the exact year, but it must have been at least a quarter century ago.
I consider it remarkable that Nunn remembered my face if not my name, so I introduced myself again and agreed that we all had a very pleasant time together hunting pheasants with Jim Exon and with the late Gene Mahoney, director of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Nunn’s recollection of the face of a Nebraskan he had met perhaps 20 years ago brought to mind another person with a remarkable memory for people—my roommate. The only difference is that in Marian’s case, she would have recalled the name, hometown, occupation, wife’s name if she had met the wife and asked how the children are.
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