Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gambling... our future.

A few years ago, the wise men who lead Pennsylvania decided to legalize "gambling". This meant that they would issue licenses to a few lucky parties to build casinos to house slot machines. Apparently these would serve as tourist attractions, or alternatively keep local gambling addicts in town to spend their money (as opposed to, say, having these folks drive to Wheeling, WV). Personally, I don't go in for this sort of "gaming", and I was decidedly uninterested in having the opportunity to play slots in my hometown. At the same time, I felt that if people really wanted to waste their money this way... why shouldn't they be allowed to? Who am I to judge folks and the way they spend their hard-earned cash?

As far as I understood, the reason to allow such activities was to generate revenue that could offset property tax reductions. I've been a home-owner for over a half decade, so this sounded good to me. And I had no moral qualms about folks throwing their dollars in the public kitty, with irrational dreams of becoming wealthy overnight. I wasn't sure why these gambling licenses were limited to slot machines, nor could I figure out the particular appeal of such a game. It didn't seem like anything that could ever hold my interest even if I was interested in placing bets. Why not include high-stakes poker or blackjack? Hell, even something like the roulette wheel seems more captivating. But to each their own.

It's been years since the legislation allowing "gaming" was passed, and Western PA is still waiting for the grand opening of the casino. Meanwhile times are getting tougher. So now PA Governor Ed Rendell is casting about for other ways to generate money for the state. His latest idea is to legalize the video poker machines that have been part of the bar/cafe scene for as long as I've been in the 'Burgh. I don't remember seeing them in Eastern PA, but I'm aware that they've been quite popular around these parts. The first time I saw a back-room full of these things in a ma-and-pop convenience store, I was confounded. After I got my first job at a bar, I realized that these places did indeed pay out winnings in cash. I assumed the entire business was mob-run. I knew it was illegal.

Rendell believes that the state can generate serious income (he estimates $550 million) for higher education by bringing these operations "above board". In his proposal, PA would get 50% of the take and leave the rest for the individual owner of the machine. I'm not quite sure where that leaves the syndicates that have been in charge of this illicit business for decades. Obviously there are some parties whose interests are at stake. The anti-gambling lobby couldn't help but oppose this. But the most vocal resistance is coming from the new casino operators who believe that video poker will eat into their own profits. Ultimately, at least a few lawmakers suspect that Rendell is simply positioning himself to push through table games as an alternative.

Meanwhile, PA State Senator Jeffrey Piccola (out of Harrisburg) has entered the fray with a counter-proposal. He's putting forth a plan that intends to boost tuition aid assistance for state schools that would (speculatively) serve an additional 25,000 students. But he wouldn't do it through legalizing video poker. Piccola wants to cut funding for the state's museums, private colleges, and art programs. He also wants to end the tax credit that Pennsylvania has extended to attract film production companies. It's difficult to understand Mr. Piccola's logic on this matter. He wants to enable more folks to get higher education, at the expense of the type of jobs and careers that such training will prepare them for. Let's all hail another genius politico.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

WV is solvent. (hillbilly cents) JM

12:16 AM  

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