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Pennsylvania slot plans should go to referendum

May 07, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

Does this sound familiar? Faced with a shortage of revenue in an election year, the powers that be decline to economize, putting off all the tough decisions until they get past the election. Then they propose raising money without raising taxes, by expanding legalized gambling.

No, it's not Maryland, but Pennsylvania, where the governor has just chopped the state's Rainy Day Fund in half and issued bonds to finance more tax breaks.

Nervous lawmakers were just starting to talk about what will happen when next year rolls around when state Rep. Thomas Michlovic, R-Allegheny, came up with an idea: Legalize slot machines at the state's four horse tracks.

He told The Associated Press that he considers his proposal a long shot because of the gubernatorial election. But of the four gubernatorial candidates, only incumbent Mark Schweiker has expressed reservations about the idea, saying he favors a statewide referendum.

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What we haven't heard from Schweiker, or from any of gubernatorial hopefuls, is what they would propose as an alternative to legalizing slot machines.

In a time of lean revenues or slow sales, businesses are forced to cut back. We're not advocating layoffs, but aren't there projects that can be put on hold until the economy improves? Isn't this the time to look at streamlining government operations?

We advocate a look for savings elsewhere because gambling is not harmless fun. Unlike other forms of entertainment, it promises much more than it ever delivers, because the game's odds favor the house. And research shows that when gambling is expanded, a greater percentage of the population becomes addicted.

And so while we disagree with Schweiker's moves on the budget, we back his call for a statewide referendum on gambling. This would be a major change, and as such deserves an in-depth debate after which voters can decide if gambling is in the state's future.

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