A “Fun” Way To Tax?
If we drill down into the ongoing controversy regarding Internet sweepstakes cafes we could perhaps come up with a unique way to raise some much needed funds for educational purposes. The legality of the so-called “cyber cafes” is about to be decided in Cleveland’s Muny Court, but no matter how the case is adjudicated the issue won’t be solved at the local level. In Toledo a judge ruled one way, and in Akron another judge ruled just the opposite.
Eventually the U.S. Supreme Court is going to have to decide if sweepstakes opportunities — delivered over a computer terminal in a cafe, rather than via the U.S. Postal Service (Publishers Clearinghouse), or when you make a purchase (McDonald’s Monopoly game) — are legal, and, in spite of how much casino interests might disagree, this one, in all likelihood is going to be a slam dunk for the cafe owners.
Here’s why: Sweepstakes have been around for centuries, similar to lotteries and bingo, and, just because the Internet is now offering another way to attempt to win something without gambling (I know, it’s a fine line) the Court can’t rule against the cafes and still allow sweepstakes in other forms. In this case it’s indeed good to have a conservative Supreme Court.
Prior to the landmark 1976 “Deep Throat” ruling which legalized porn, shops that peddled sexually explicit materials that some deemed offensive were routinely raided and shut down by police officers. Indeed, even after the Court handed down the decision some jurisdictions still raided such establishments. However, now they are a part of the American landscape and not much attention is paid to them. I predict the same thing will occur over time with Internet cafes … eventually the controversy will subside and they too will become part of American culture.
What local governments should be looking at is how to capture some of the dollars folks will spend in sweepstakes cafes and use them for the public good. That was the promise made to get the electorate to vote to allow the lottery: profits would be used for schools. And, in spite of the fact the lottery didn’t live up to its promise in terms of generating funds for schools (wow, image that, politicians lied to us!) maybe we can learn from our mistakes with sweepstakes cafes.
When the ruling comes down that such businesses are indeed allowed to operate, instead of allowing greedy businesspersons to rape the community, why not turn this into a “fun tax”?
Obviously people love playing these computer devices that look suspiciously like slot machines and games of chance. And just as obviously they don’t like to vote to tax themselves to fund schools. Why not “license” (or at least favor) non-profits to run these cafes, with the understanding they will take a percentage (a very large percentage) of the profits and buy school uniforms for underclass children, set up scholarship funds, and do other worthwhile and needy things in the educational arena?
Now I can already hear a phalanx of lawyers yelling “Stop, you can’t do that!” Simple, then just change the law. If folks don’t want to pay for education one way, then let them pay for it another … and have some fun while they are taxing themselves.
From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting http://www.neighborhoodsolutionsinc.com.