COULD you do a good job supervising the person who signs your paycheck?
Mary Colins, new chairwoman of the State Gaming Control Board, thinks so. Colins, whose salary is paid for by the industry she is supposed to be regulating, assures us casinos will be an economic boon to our state.
Colins would also have us believe that the board's conduct and that of its former chairman Tad Decker is above reproach. Nothing could be further from the truth, in my view.
In editorials, both the Daily News and Inquirer have condemned the way that Chairman Decker handled his relationship with the SugarHouse Casino. And last week, 33 citizens asked the disciplinary board of the state Supreme Court to look into Decker's conflict of interest issues.
The complaint, brought under the banner of Hallwatch and Casino-Free Philadelphia, asked for an investigation of seven specific charges, including whether Chairman Decker met privately with Cozen vice-chair Patrick O'Connor, creating at the very least the appearance of an improper ex parte contact with a casino lawyer.
Colins doesn't mention that, while a good deal for politicians in Harrisburg, casinos are a losing proposition for cities like Philadelphia that are forced to host them.
Casinos drain residents' disposable incomes, but generate no useful product or service, just empty wallets and broken dreams. William N. Thompson, a professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, estimates that for every slot machine put into operation, $50,000 - the equivalent of one good-paying job - will leave the Philadelphia economy every year.
Since Philadelphia is slated to receive two Las Vegas-size casinos with 5,000 slots each, the effect will be as if 10,000 Philadelphians lost their jobs once the two casinos are operational.
The SugarHouse and Foxwoods casinos would compete for dollars that Philadelphians currently spend on other things. The average American who lives in a gambling town loses $700 a year, according to Thompson. The two casinos can therefore be expected to suck $788 million from the city's 1.1 million adults every year, money that they would no longer have when it comes time to make a down payment on a house, buy a new car or even spend a night on the town.
According to the state agency responsible for monitoring city finances, gambling is likely to open a huge hole in the budget. The PICA staff report estimates the city will have to come up with $200 million to deal with the 9,450 pathological gamblers that the Philadelphia casinos will create.
These aren't anti-casino activists saying that gambling is a bad deal for the city, but Gov. Rendell's own experts. Thompson was Rendell's pick to estimate casino revenues and PICA executive director Rob DuBow served as the governor's budget director.
The primary mission of the state gaming board is supposed to be "to protect the citizens of Pennsylvania."
It's time for the gaming board to stop protecting the gambling industry and start protecting the citizens.
Ed Goppelt, Publisher