Slots for Tots

Not enough money to keep the school afloat? Time to bring in the bandits.

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I must make a full disclosure up front so as not to represent myself as anyone important or credible, like a state senator or strip club owner.

I am a public high school teacher.

Despite my admission, I ask you to consider two possible ideas, either of which would go some way toward solving our education funding problem. My proposals would make a virtue of a vice, enable politicians on both sides to claim victory, allow those who profit from human weakness to stand as proud benefactors, and possibly make parent-teacher nights way more fun.

First, we all agree our children are worth educating. Traditionally, we have been willing to pass the hat (read: pay taxes) to create a well-educated society, with competent workers, sharp innovators and critical-minded citizens. We decided long ago that we didn’t want only aristocratic brats and silver-spooned sons of the nouveau riche to have access to private tutors while the rest of us pray we can get our eldest apprenticed to the one-eyed rat skinner the next village over.

Second, we decided some time ago that publicly funded K-12 schools provide the single most significant and concrete commitment to the ideal outlined above. While far from perfect, these schools give every person in our society a fair start, a fundamental set of skills he or she can use to parrot talk-radio pundits or help out beleaguered members of the Nigerian Royal Family.

Third, we are fiercely independent. We believe in pulling ourselves up by our untied sneaker laces. We believe in a self-regulating free market economy, caveat emptor, economic Darwinism. Screw the bureaucrats and regulators, we’ll take our chances, bubbles and scams be damned.

You may notice some friction: How can we support our national commitment to quality universal education while giving our laissez-faire, independent streak its due?

It’s a difficult conundrum, but we already have a model for joyous, voluntary giving right here in our own state. It’s waiting in row upon gleaming row. You see, people who are loathe to give up their labor’s fruits to taxes are often quite happy to donate cash charity to billion-dollar casinos.

According to the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s latest report, 321 nonrestricted gambling locations (those with more than 15 distinct games/machines) reported operating 86,000 multi-denomination slot machines. From these, they drew in $3.1 billion in profit. That’s about $36,000 per machine per year, enough to pay the salary of one teacher fresh out of UNLV.

If you took the income of one of those machines at each location, you’d walk away with roughly $11.5 million, slightly more than 20 times the amount of my high school’s annual operating budget (not including personnel costs and utilities). That’s only $575,000 for equipment, supplies, learning materials and anything else you can imagine needing in a building that sees 2,500 adolescents hungry for learning pour through its doors every day.

So let’s go to every nonrestricted gaming site and slap a sticker that reads, “All proceeds from this machine go to supporting education in the state of Nevada” on five machines: one penny, one nickel, on quarter, one dollar and one multi-denominational. That comes out to a little over 1,100 slot machines, or 0.5 percent of only those type of machines. Don’t touch keno, table games, sports books, or $5, $25, $100 or MegaBucks machines.

Dedicating five machines per location would yield a little over $47.5 million, or the annual salary and benefits package for around 950 newly minted teachers. Further, players can tell their scowling spouses that they didn’t really lose all that money, they just donated it to those sad, struggling Nevada schools.

True, $47.5 million won’t come close to meeting the $250-$275 million expected shortfall just for the Clark County School District alone, but five machines is only a start. I expect conscientious casino operators will be eager to best each other in the number of machines dedicated to the brightening of our state’s youth.

If dedicating slot machines inside the casinos seems too disconnected, I offer this second alternative:

Build a 14-machine slot parlor on every school property. This makes the income nontaxable, and coins could be shoveled directly into school operating budgets. Begin parent-teacher nights with free cocktails and hand out two-for-one play coupons.

You might think citizens would be appalled. This is understandable, given the strong moral character for which our community is so rightly and routinely applauded in film and print. But the practical people of Nevada already agree with using gaming revenue to fund education, albeit via the cumbersome and distasteful vehicle of taxation.

One group would be justifiably critical. The 7-Eleven and Smith’s across the street from my building would almost certainly experience a dip in gambling revenue as some of their regular philanthropists would gravitate immediately to any new opportunity to donate to a worthy cause.

To compensate, I propose that school slot parlors would not sell food or drink directly, but instead employ work-study program students to make refreshment runs to the nearest stores, which could add a small surcharge to cover their decreased machine revenue. Schools would gain an additional income stream, and students would earn tip money and gain valuable customer-service experience.

Both these proposals have the advantage of being pragmatic and easy to implement.

The first requires only a large sticker, although this simple marketing tool would quickly be superseded depending on how quickly Bally’s could develop slots with naughty schoolmarms and get the rights to Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.” The second would require more investment, but because of budget cuts, our school has had a disused theater, choir room and woodshop for a couple of years now. So there’s plenty of space to begin raising money for the construction of a permanent slot facility down by the athletic field.