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Gaming changes a mixed bag

October 19, 2006

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives tinkered with the state's slot-machine law again this week. The result was a mixed bag that eliminated a potential conflict of interest while allowing casinos to ignore some local ordinances.

On the plus side, both the House and Senate have deleted language that would have allowed public officials to own up to 1 percent of a gambling interest.

That 1 percent may not sound like a lot, but these facilities will take in millions in revenue. We'd rather not see elected officials tempted to mix their private interests and the job of serving the public.

On the minus side, both the House and Senate agreed to a provision that would exempt the gambling halls from local ordinances that ban indoor smoking.

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Unless they're planning on giving the staff portable oxygen tanks, this is a terrible idea.

And speaking of terrible ideas, the House would like state gambling regulators to have the final say on zoning matters in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, which have been approved for gambling halls.

We won't go as far as Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Philadelphia, who said it would be the "beginning of the destruction of local zoning all over the state."

But zoning has been a local matter because the board members who make the decisions have a big incentive to do the job correctly - they have to live with the results.

There's a lesson here for Marylanders. If this state ever passes a bill legalizing slot machines, it will be a while before all the kinks are worked out and the revenue stream begins to flow. And Maryland's not even at the starting line yet.

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