America is so hooked on gambling that even the faltering economy is unlikely to convince it to kick the habit.
Revenues are down in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, as those cities that first injected the gaming needle face growing competition in other states. But rather than retreat from the industry that has become their lifeblood, A.C. and Vegas are investing in other lures that will bring them new meat.
Harrah's Resort, the Borgata and Trump's Taj Mahal have added new hotel towers in Atlantic City. The Shore town now boasts outlet stores as well as upscale shops and top-chef restaurants within the casino complexes.
Then there are the concerts and shows. Here are just some of the acts that recently or will soon be playing at Atlantic City venues: Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Buffett, Boston, Chaka Khan, Peter Frampton, Smokey Robinson, Jill Scott, Yes, James Taylor.
But the performers are just to get you in the door. Once there, it's expected that the bright lights and clanging bells will entice you to a slot machine or dealer's table.
Pennsylvania hasn't even opened all of the 14 slots parlors it has authorized, but House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese (D., Greene) is promoting a bill to also allow poker, blackjack, roulette and dice games. It's all for the good of the state, he says, which must compete not only with Atlantic City but also with the gambling opportunities in New York and Delaware.
Fortunately, some legislators argue there shouldn't be any extension of gambling until the state's flawed gaming law is revised. Loopholes favoring the politically connected should be closed.
Pennsylvanians bought the pitch to bring slots parlors to the state because of the promise of revenue to bring down property taxes. Oh, there was also that bit about saving the horse tracks that have become racinos. But one wonders how long it will be before track operators say the heck with the ponies; put in more slots.
Pennsylvania will have 61,000 slot machines, second only to Las Vegas, when all of its casinos open. But the revenue produced won't be free money. There's the cost of encouraging the most susceptible among us to spend their hard-earned pay on a chance for riches that for most will never come. That's a role government shouldn't play.