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Donā??t bank on gambling bucks

March 17. 2013 3:02AM
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PENNSYLVANIA lawmakers now regard legal gambling as a golden goose to balance budgets, provide services for seniors and grant property-tax subsidies to homeowners.

But common sense and a realistic appraisal will show becoming too reliant on gaming funds will deal future generations a losing hand. Those at the helm must resist the temptation to get hooked on the lure of easy revenue.

It's indisputable balance sheets bear out the assertion that Pennsylvanians largely have benefited from gaming proceeds to date. While the amount of reduction varies among school districts, homeowners statewide have received an average yearly reduction of nearly $200 from casino revenue.

Millions more are pumped into the economy for senior citizens from the Pennsylvania Lottery. Those computer-generated tickets and colorful, cleverly marketed scratch-offs have contributed $22.6 billion to programs such as free transit and the low-cost prescription drug programs over four decades.

But there is more to the equation than what a balance sheet can reveal.

A human dimension must be acknowledged: The money flowing to Harrisburg came from many of the same folks the programs help.

Casinos statewide are big draws for senior citizens, and a disproportionate number of lower-income people bank on a lottery ticket to ease financial problems. The odds are undeniable that the house will win more often than not.

Simply put, plans to add lottery games and expand business at casinos is prefaced on citizens losing more money from their paychecks or retirement funds. Consider these recent developments:

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's controversial plan to have a private management company take over lottery operations is based on the belief the firm can increase new funding to the tune of up to $4.5 billion over the next 20 years.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Democratic state Rep. Eddie Pashinski of Wilkes-Barre wants to provide a revenue stream for taverns and clubs, some of which are having a hard time competing with the state's 11-casino network. He plans to introduce legislation to allow them to have video poker machines, with half the money going to the state. He said that could provide as much as $500 million for property tax relief programs.

While the proposals have noble goals, the methodology deserve further consideration.

How many times can lawmakers tap into the gambling well to address societal problems? Should we expand public funds by tempting people to gamble more?

It's a safe bet that policy will make losers out of too many in the long run. The state, which often reminds gamblers to play responsibly, should govern in a likewise manner.

It's indisputable balance sheets bear out the assertion that Pennsylvanians largely have benefited from gaming proceeds to date.

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