Op-Ed

And after we legalize pot, how about sports betting?

Posted

I’ve said it before in these pages, and I’ll say it again: Nassau County really needs to chill out.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t even introduced formal legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, and county residents and elected officials are already freaking out.

I can’t say I was shocked to read how scared everyone sounded in the Herald’s coverage of local reactions to the prospect of fully legalizing pot. Oh, the addiction issues! Oh, the traffic accidents! Oh, the humanity! Give me a break, people.

Why is it that we’re all so apt to complain about how high our property taxes are, but we’re so reluctant to embrace any outside-the-box potential revenue streams that might ameliorate that burden? For a county that has been struggling for nearly two decades to achieve fiscal solvency, you’d think leaders might welcome the possible tax revenue that legalizing marijuana might bring.

According to Forbes magazine, California has raked in $2.75 billion in marijuana sales since it legalized recreational marijuana in 2016. Colorado, which made pot fully legal in 2012, has pulled in $1.56 billion. I promise you those states aren’t descending into anarchy as a result. I know for a fact that Colorado isn’t.

That’s because a few buddies and I took a trip to Denver last August. There were no vagrants walking the streets smoking marijuana. The dispensaries we saw seemed to be discreetly run. There was nobody loitering outside them.

The city was safe, clean and breathtakingly scenic. What’s more, a friend of ours who lives there spoke glowingly of how the extra tax revenue has improved school infrastructure, among other things.

Despite all of those potential benefits, one Nassau County municipality has already voted to outlaw the sale of recreational marijuana, even before a state law is on the books. The Town of North Hempstead banned the sale of pot within its limits on Jan. 8.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t exercise caution before we legalize, but can we all take a timeout and give this thing a chance? And while we’re all counting to 10, let me just throw another huge money-making proposal out there that New York state should consider ASAP: legal sports gambling.

We already allow people to play Quick Draw and place bets on horse racing in the state, so let’s give interested parties the right to place wagers on sporting events. Believe me, they already are. Take me, for example. At the beginning of the football season, I sent my friend Vin about $40 through Venmo, an app linked to your bank account that allows you to send money electronically to people. Vin lives in New Jersey, which recently legalized sports gambling, and he can place bets with a few taps on his phone.

He took my bets all season. In case you’re wondering, I won over $200. At the conclusion of the Super Bowl, Vin Venmo’d me my winnings.

I wonder how many New Yorkers were doing the exact same thing I was. Probably a lot. It’s a shame we can’t simply place these bets within our state so New York can reap the tax benefits, and not New Jersey.

Consider the billions of dollars that were wagered, legally and illegally, on the Super Bowl alone. That’s an awful lot of taxable money to just leave on the table. And that’s just one game, in one sport.

But I can hear the Nassau County curmudgeons now. “If we legalize gambling, everyone will become a degenerate!” Is that so? Certainly, some might. But no more than the percentage of people who get hooked on alcohol or nicotine, two dangerous, physically addicting — and perfectly legal — drugs.

Perhaps when marijuana is finally legal, Nassau County can take a collective (metaphorical) hit and relax. And then we can start taking some real, meaningful steps to fix our fiscal woes.

Nick Buglione is a teacher, freelance journalist and former editor of the East Meadow Herald.