Gambling better left to the state

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Recently in the news: gambling interests in Pennsylvania have been giving money to key state and municipal officials? campaign funds in order to coax them into legalizing slot machines at the state?s horse racing tracks. The goal of Penn National Gaming, the corporation behind most of the contributions ? aside from entirely being a bribe ? is not in the interest of the state or its denizens. It desires the state to legalize gambling entirely for its own profit, without a care for the citizens, its patrons. Control of the new facilities should not be sold to the highest bidder for quick cash, but rather held by the state for continuing profits.
Gambling itself is an idea whose profits, although acquired through the foolish ?get rich quick? thinking of the users, will be quite useful for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Among the named direct beneficiaries of such revenue would be the state?s schools and transit systems, both badly in need of funding; also potentially named are the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are seeking state assistance for their new facility to be built just south of the Civic Arena.
But while the reasons for constructing gaming annexes to existing gambling facilities are obvious ? keeping state residents in Pennsylvania, instead of sending them to casinos in West Virginia, Delaware, and Connecticut ? using the gambling institutions who are paying the election-year kick backs is neither beneficial nor feasible. Like many aspects of this state, the chance to start gaming off within the tight control of state officials should not be overlooked.
It has been proposed that casino operations ? both the slots at racetracks and potential riverboat gambling on the Delaware River in Philadelphia ? should be operated by the state, with state employees, and direct and full state control.
The proposal actually parallels how the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (LCB) operates its facilities; though many residents feel that LCB prices are inflated, the combination of convenience and prohibition on alcohol importation keep the commonwealth as the largest importer of liquor in the country. With gambling, the prohibition would be illogical and difficult, since it would be transporting money ? money that you could never have to account for if you earned it legally ? across the state borders. Convenience, though, is a big draw; regardless of who is running the games, Pennsylvanian patrons are going to stay within the borders, especially if it?s well-publicized that profits go to good causes, much like the way Pennsylvania operates its state lottery.
If the state intends to permit gambling entirely as a profit generator ? and legalizing gambling seldom has any other purpose ? it must retain control of the facilities. Not only can this retention serve to defer the crime and general seediness that often follow the legalization, but it will ensure that employees are given equitable treatment and fair benefits from the employer, as is done with the state?s LCB retail stores? employees. It makes economic sense that in the long term, the state can generate more money with ownership than with an initial sale, and it?s that revenue that may serve to lower Pennsylvania?s already inflated tax structure.

Adam Greenberg (agreenbe@) is the Forum Editor and has never used a slot machine. He would like it, though, if all his good actions were followed by flashing lights, sirens, and a big payoff.