Although our state is no longer as broke as it was in 2010, we still need new revenue sources, which is why the Malloy administration has turned its attention to two very progressive ideas: online gambling and killing bears. The reasons:
•The U.S. Justice Department has loosened its rules against "non-sports gambling," which may include things like poker, despite the fact that ESPN currently treats it as a sport, albeit the only one that can be played by people with congestive heart failure.
•We apparently have too many bears, especially in places like Farmington, which are not set up for them.
To make matters more confusing, the Malloy administration has combined the two ideas and proposed a lottery to pick the people who get to shoot the bears.
I cannot be the only person now thinking about the tremendous revenue opportunity represented by pari-mutuel bear-baiting. People would pay admission to enter a stadium in which a lightly armed human would attempt to kill a bear, while the spectators bet on the outcome and cheered for blood. This was tried in Connecticut in the 1970s under the name "jai alai."
The British 17th-century version of bear-baiting was very cruel and unfair to bears, but it didn't matter because people had almost nothing else to watch, except the English civil wars, which you were not allowed to bet on because they were run by Protestants.
Today you've got competition from cable television, and you've got PETA, so you've got to keep the bears on an equal footing with the human contestants. Frankly, if the bears never get to kill and eat anybody, this is not going to work.
But if we make it fun and exciting and get into the bear-baiting business before the other states, we are going to have tourism dollars the way Canada has boredom.
The next question: Who is going to fight the bears? The ideal answer is Tim Tebow, but I don't think he'll do it until there is more evidence that he can't play football.
Instead, let's look at a way of also cutting expenditures. Prison remains a fantastically expensive enterprise. The Correction Department has the most employees of any state agency. What if we offered public bear-fighting as an alternative to incarceration? Judges would be authorized to offer persons facing sentences of seven years or less the opportunity to fight a bear instead at a state-owned bear fronton. "State-owned" is very important. A big mistake in the 1970s was letting in licensed private operators. (See Zeff, A. Robert.) You really want the ne'er-do-wells down there in the ring fighting the bears, not up in the office counting the handle.
For example, last week former Hartford mayor Eddie Perez filed a 61-page appeal brief on his corruption conviction. What if he were given the choice of fighting a bear instead? He would be issued a short Bronze Age stabbing sword and a shield made of recycled continuance motions. That seems fair.
Now comes the moment wherein people try to pick my idea apart, The most common complaint will be that this represents a sharp turn toward barbarism and depravity. You people need to get out more or at least watch the WWE. We're already there.
The casino people will complain that, as theoretical Native Americans, they should have right of first refusal on collaborating with bears. To them I say: Don't be greedy. You have Toby Keith, Van Halen and Michael Flatley. Let us have the bears.
The animal rights argument is predictable. My answer: It looks to me like some bears are going down, no matter what. We can do it the bear-hunt-lottery way, in which case Farmington should brace itself for guys with Cabela's shotguns blasting away at Newfoundland hounds, or we can do it my way, where the bears have decent odds and the bystanders don't get hurt by b'wana.
Think about the poor mountain lion that was run over by a Hyundai in Milford last year. Are you telling me it wouldn't have been happier occasionally fighting a chronic parole violator?
At the moment, our state appears to lack even an official tourism slogan. How about "Connecticut — The Bear Necessity"? Let the games begin.
Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5) and blogs at http://blogs.courant.com/to_wit. He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.