Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sports betting and rainy-day fund before voters

New Jersey is asking voters to make a risky bet on sports betting at Atlantic City’s casinos and four racetracks. The only statewide question on the Nov. 8 ballot would set the groundwork for the state to possibly expand gambling in the latest desperate attempt to throw the struggling casinos a lifeline.

Sports betting and rainy-day fund before voters

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New Jersey is asking voters to make a risky bet on sports betting at Atlantic City’s casinos and four racetracks. The only statewide question on the Nov. 8 ballot would set the groundwork for the state to possibly expand gambling in the latest desperate attempt to throw the struggling casinos a lifeline.

If approved, the nonbinding referendum would allow a change in the New Jersey Constitution to permit legislation authorizing sports betting. However, it would only become effective if a federal law limiting such betting to four states is repealed or overturned.

Sports betting is a bad bet for New Jersey. It already relies too heavily on gambling in a market saturated with wagering opportunities. Making sports betting legal would also make it easier to breed more compulsive gamblers. Sports have already been plagued by illegal betting scandals that raise questions about the integrity of games. New Jerseyans should vote NO.

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Every time the city gets into a financial pinch, Philadelphians who rely on critical municipal services probably find themselves wishing that City Hall officials had the foresight to put aside funds for such fiscal emergencies. Well, after Nov. 8, voters may be able to stop wishing.

Voting YES on ballot question No. 1 will amend the City Charter to require creation of a rainy-day fund. It’s a good idea, and it enjoys support from Mayor Nutter, City Council, the state’s fiscal oversight agency, PICA, and the local watchdog group the Committee of Seventy.

Under the charter provision, the city would be required to contribute to the fund whenever its ledgers showed a surplus at the close of its fiscal year. Withdrawals from the fund would be restricted to dealing with a fiscal crisis triggered by a budget shortfall.

With or without a charter change, it makes sense for the city to prepare for unforeseen financial troubles. But voters can assure that it happens by their approval of this ballot question, as well as a companion question approving routine borrowing to meet capital expenses for transit, parks, and other city facilities.

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