Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Bingo tax attacked

What is it about Fort Smith and its love affair with bingo? Now its lawmakers are trying to repeal the little tax on bingo parlors that pays for the state to police the bingo operations. Not only that, they would give back most of the $1.1 million that has already been collected and pretty much stop regulating the bingo operators.

Two years ago, you will remember, Arkansas voters ratified a constitutional amendment legalizing bingo as long as it was conducted for charitable, not commercial, purposes. We have a strong suspicion that not all the bingo operations are charitable or solely religious affairs. The regulation is anemic to say the least.

Rep. Tracy Pennartz, D-Fort Smith, says the little tax and the minuscule regulation provided in the enabling legislation in 2007 are hamstringing the charitable work of the operators. He says state law-enforcement agencies could police bingo parlors without any extra money or extra duties. So the House of Representatives voted last week to repeal the tax and the Senate is apt to go along. The House is about to pass another Pennartz bill refunding $601,000 of the taxes.

Bingo is gambling, to which we have no stern moral aversion, but it needs regulating the same as casino and pari-mutuel wagering to see that it is honest and not commercially profitable. If it is commercially profitable, then the law needs to be changed to permit it and higher taxes imposed.

Governor Beebe said he could support a lower tax as long as the state continued to regulate the business but not repeal the tax completely. We hope he sticks to his guns.