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Fumo slot plan not perfect, but it may spur a better one

November 18, 2003

Everyone in Pennsylvania's state capital agrees that legalizing slot machines would bring much-needed revenue to the state. On just how to do that, there's an argument on every point. As one GOP lawmaker said, without some compromise, the legislature may end up rejecting the whole idea.

Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell proposed slot machine legalization in part because his predecessor agreed to transfer half a billion dollars from the state's Rainy Day Fund to avoid raising taxes in an election year. Now the fiscal cupboard is bare.

Rendell proposed legalizing slots at the state's horse tracks, which would not only invigorate the racing industry, but also avoid fights with the "not in my backyard" forces.

The estimated $800 million a year that would come to the state would be used to lower property taxes statewide. That's because Rendell's proposal to lower property taxes while raising income taxes didn't win lawmakers' backing.

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Now comes a new idea from state Sen. Vincent Fumo, a Philadelphia Democrat who wants slots at the six currently licensed horse tracks and at another six sites to be chosen by a state gambling commission.

Fumo's spokesman told The Associated Press that the new bill would avoid the rush to build new horse tracks, which would hurt older, established venues. It would also ensure that some slot parlors would be located conveniently to attract the maximum number of players.

But placing slot parlors outside the horse tracks will energize the anti-gambling forces, by allowing them to argue that all the evils of slots will now be coming to residential neighborhoods, as opposed to restricting them to the horse tracks.

It would be nice if the governor and state lawmakers could agree on a plan to fund education and the state's other priorities without slots.

But gambling is the tax that no one has to vote for, since all the players are volunteers. Until elected officials are ready to tell citizens that government services cost money and that someone has to pay the bill, proposals to expand gambling will be on the table.

Sen. Fumo's plan has some problems, but at least it is an attempt to craft a compromise. Those who say there's another solution should produce it, and soon.

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