This is rich. A group of Pennsylvania casinos has sued to stop the state lottery from offering online games, which the casinos allege are illegal.
The state regulates the casinos. But now, the casinos are the ones claiming that what the state lottery is doing is illegal.
The legal flap between Pennsylvania's two major gambling syndicates echoes a line from The Godfather Part II, when Hyman Roth explains why he didn't question the killing of his friend and casino mogul Moe Green: "This is the business we've chosen."
No one is taking a bullet in the eye, like Green did, but watching the casinos and the lottery fight over the newest gambling front is just as disturbing.
It's no surprise the casino industry is at odds with the lottery. After all, Harrisburg has never had a coherent gambling policy beyond expanding games of chance to every corner of the commonwealth.
The Pennsylvania Lottery was created in 1971 with the goal of providing tax relief to senior citizens. How has that worked out? The state now uses more vague language about lottery revenues "benefitting older Pennsylvanians."
The first lottery game sold 50-cent tickets for a weekly drawing of $50,000. A year later, the lottery expanded to three weekly games and two new ones. By 1977, the lottery had pushed into the numbers racket, offering a daily three-digit drawing televised live.
Today, there are 12 different drawings and 10 scratch-off games. The cost of a scratch-off ticket is as much as $30.
Given Pennsylvania's aggressive expansion and marketing of the lottery, it is hard to determine who is more addicted: lawmakers or the gamblers.
The same can be said of the casinos, where a similar rapid expansion has occurred with no thought of the negative impact. Spurred by then-Gov. Ed Rendell, the legislature legalized slot machines in 2004. Just like the lottery, slots revenues were supposed to reduce property taxes.
Six years later, the state legalized table games, transforming slots parlors into full-blown casinos. So far, gross terminal revenue from slots has generated $24 billion; gross revenue from table games has added another $6 billion. Those revenues are distributed to a variety of tax reductions and subsidies. Not satisfied, last year, the legislature approved a bill that would allow casino gambling in truck stops, airports, and online. The measure also legalized sports betting and authorized adding 10 more satellite casinos.
Casino executives at Parx, SugarHouse, and Harrah's in Chester famously boasted at an industry conference how most of their customers visit anywhere from three to six times a week.