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New rules for new tracks

May 06, 2003

The push to legalize slot machines at Pennsylvania's horse tracks is now encountering some resistance, as those who want to bring home some of the more than $1 billion Pennsylvanians gamble in other states clash with those who feel that slots will quickly evolve into full-fledged casino gambling. That's one more reason to make sure any bill written deals with all the possibilities.

'Round-the-clock casino gambling is something the state ought to resist because while it's possible to pump a lot of cash into a slot machine, other games of chance like blackjack can cost players thousands of dollars in just an hour's time. And one characteristic of addicted gamblers is that even after large losses, they play on, convinced that the next play is the one that will reverse their fortunes.

The anti-gambling forces, including Sen. Gibson Armstrong, R-Lancaster, argue that legalizing slots will increase the number of addicted gamblers, destroying families and businesses. Armstrong wants an 18-month moratorium for further study of the issue.

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Sen. John Z. Wozniak, D-Cambria, is on the other side, saying that casino gambling will arrive sooner or later and that it might as well be sooner. Speaking bluntly, Wozniak told the Senate Finance Committee that talk about helping the race tracks was just a sham and that the bill's real intent is to impose what he called a politically painless tax increase.

As now written, the two bills proposing legalization of slots would place up to 3,000 slot machines at each of eight existing tracks and two not yet licensed. Gov. Ed Rendell estimates they will yield $300 million to $800 million each year, to increase school funding and cut local property taxes.

One thing we haven't heard, but which makes a lot of sense, is a referendum requirement for new horse tracks. No one is under any illusion that these tracks are being considered because of demand for more horse racing. Those who live near existing tracks know what goes on there. Those who live near proposed new tracks should have a voice in what takes place in their neighborhoods.

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