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Pennsy slots bill passes

now let's see safeguards

July 06, 2004

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell on Monday signed a bill that will install 61,000 slot machines at 14 sites around the state, bringing in an estimated $3 billion a year in new revenue.

The bill passed in large part because the administration promised that gambling revenues would cut local property taxes by 20 percent.

But Pennsylvanians must not allow that benefit to blind them to the possible ills that may come along with expanded gambling. Unless there are adequate protections for those prone to becoming gambling addicts, Rendell's victory will be a hollow one indeed.

The 14 sites could include the state's eight horse tracks, but that's not a foregone conclusion.

First, a yet-to-be appointed gambling commission must investigate would-be suppliers of slot machines and oversee the application process the horse tracks must go through.

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This process is predicted to take at least a year, with no property-tax relief forecast before 2006.

If all goes well, at that point there would be tax relief in all but one of the state's school districts. In Philadelphia, the savings would be applied to the city's wage tax.

Rendell campaigned on a pledge to reduce the local school districts' dependence on property taxes. The fear was that older Pennsylvanians, past their peak earning years, would be taxed out of their homes by increasing school costs.

Accomplishing that while adding funds to the school system would be quite a pair of accomplishments. But they should not come at the expense of those with little control over their appetite for gambling.

We favor the following measures to combat addictive gambling:

  • A registry of addictive gamblers, which can be checked at the point of admission, so those being treated will have a harder time falling back into their old habits.

  • A ban on automatic teller machines at the race tracks, or at other gambling venues. The temptation to reverse a day of losses with "one more bet" is often too much. Better that those who've lost what they came with go home instead of making things worse.

  • A contribution toward treatment of addictive gamblers. Slots will generate plenty of revenue and spending some of it on those who can't control their urges is the right thing to do.
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