Gambling is the opioid of Harrisburg lawmakers. It comes with all the hallmarks of addiction: compulsive need, increasing tolerance, and the drive to continue to consume despite negative consequences.
Lawmakers got their first real taste when they legalized gaming in 2004 and began opening slots parlors around the state. When that wasn’t enough, they added table games. Then they began talking about adding video-game terminals in bars, clubs and other outlets, which they recently began pushing to help close a massive budget hole.
It is true that gambling has been a great success in the state: Slots alone have generated $22 billion in revenue, after payouts on wagers are paid. Table games have generated $4 billion. These rewards go to local municipalities who host casinos, give tax reductions to taxpayers, and help prop up the state’s horse-racing industry.
Of course, there’s another way of seeing that $26 billion: The money gamblers lost to casinos in the past 11 years. Every year, $2 billion flies out of the pockets of Pennsylvanians and visitors from elsewhere.
Now lawmakers want to unleash another $100 million a year from people’s pockets with video-gaming terminals to help deal with a $3 billion deficit.
(If gambling were the answer to filling budget holes, why do the state budget woes get bigger every year? ) Lawmakers are also looking at new ways to slice the pie of money that comes in; a change in what casinos are taxed will set a new standard of $10 million a year per casino earmarked for those municipalities that host casinos. Philadelphia’s share is $7 million, with $5 million going to schools. State Sen. Larry Farnese and others want to divert some of the new amount that would go to Philadelphia to the Department of Commerce and Economic Development, a state agency that hands out grants, over which the city has no control.
So the state has mandated gambling, mandated exactly where casinos were going, and now want to control some of the money that goes to the municipalities that host the casinos.
The streets, and services, and citizens of the city are the ones accommodating the state-mandated casino. And since the state has systematically reduced its support of the schools, it seems logical that this extra money should go to the schools, not back to the state.
Meanwhile, while lawmakers tinker with the gaming law, we wish they would finally take a long look at the share that goes to the faltering horse race industry. Propping up this industry was the original intent behind the gaming law, and since gaming was legalized, the horse race industry has received over $1 billion. Yes, ONE BILLION dollars.
And yet, despite this generous infusion of cash, the industry continues to decline. Why are we propping up one special-interest group instead of the common good? Especially since the budget woes of the state are likely to be harming actual, real people, not animals.
Horse breeders and others in the horse-racing industry cry doomsday tears every time such a suggestion gets made. But let’s be honest: We have one form of gambling – casinos — that essentially provides the winnings to fuel another form of gambling — horse racing. And lawmakers who continue to feed that cycle of addiction.