EARLIER THIS WEEK, the state House approved legislation that would expand the state's reliance on gambling income by allowing table games like roulette and blackjack.
Afterward, the architect of the bill, Rep. Dante Santoni, D-Berks, said, "Today we have the opportunity to improve people's lives and take a huge step toward raising revenue without raising taxes."
How much more disconnected from reality do you have to be to claim that expanding gambling will improve people's lives?
We will concede that gaming has improved the lives of at least one group of citizens ever since Act 71 was passed five years ago.
The problem is, that those citizens have four legs and eat hay.
The Legislature's motive in passing act 71 was to save the state's horse-racing industry. In fact, its original title was the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act. And since that time, that industry has benefited grandly - by $547,598,932.
That's right, more than a half-billion dollars, or about $100 million a year. Not a bad day at the races.
Aren't those horses saved yet?
We have nothing against horses, or even against the industry - unless you count the irony that the state expanded gambling to save an industry based on gambling. (They don't breed race horses just for fun or for science.)
To be fair, we will point out that table-games revenue wouldn't be going to the racehorse industry. And that revenues from gambling also contributed to property-tax decreases.
But it's hard to find many positives in relying on gambling to balance the state budget (which, by the way, isn't balanced yet, since table games is filling a final hole). In fact, the negatives are piling up fast - like a new wrinkle that would allow slots players to get lines of credit at casinos. While casinos aren't exactly predatory lenders, the end result for slots players who can now bleed their retirement funds or home equity to keep pulling the lever could be disastrous.
After the House OK'd table games, the state Senate approved its own rewritten version of a bill that should add a few delays into getting table games approved. The Senate bill could redirect the 2 percent of revenues that are supposed to go the hosting municipalities to select nonprofits. Any more bad ideas out there?
One thing we can count on: If there are any more dumb ideas for turning a questionable enterprise like gambling into more bad news for citizens, we can count on the Legislature to find them, and pass them quickly. I