New Castle News

January 29, 2013

Our Opinion: Lottery privatization plan provides dubious benefit

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — There are times when privatization of government operations makes perfect sense.

For instance, we long have supported privatization of liquor sales in Pennsylvania. Government has no business running a monopoly on alcohol sales any more than it does on cigarettes, gasoline or tennis shoes.

But we remain puzzled by the 20-year contract reached between the Corbett administration and a British firm to privatize the state’s lottery system. Despite administration explanations, we’re not convinced any potential benefits outweigh the consequences.

Gov. Tom Corbett said the agreement with Camelot Global Services will greatly increase the amount of money coming into the state’s lottery system and provide badly needed funding for senior citizen programs.

But from what we can see, that notion banks heavily on a plan to introduce keno games into bars and restaurants in the commonwealth. These games can mimic slot machines and would amount to a massive expansion of gambling.

And an unlegislated one to boot. Corbett argues he has the power to add these keno games without action from state lawmakers.

Once upon a time, we could count on Republican politicians to oppose more gambling, mainly on moral grounds. These days — in an effort to fund public services without raising taxes — additional gambling seems to be the go-to option.

Fortunately, at least some lawmakers are raising questions about the keno angle, with GOP leaders in the Legislature asking Corbett to alter the contract to prohibit online gaming and slots-type devices for keno.

But are they prepared to use their power to challenge Corbett? And are rank-and-file lawmakers willing to go along?

You can be sure any legislator who actively opposes Corbett will be accused of failing to support the state’s commitment to the elderly. With all of Pennsylvania’s lottery proceeds serving senior citizens, this is a powerful voting bloc no politician wants to offend.

But if new money is going to flow into the state lottery system, it’s worth asking where it will come from. In its public pitch, Camelot said it intends to pursue customers who make $70,000 or more per year.

The harsh reality, however, is that lottery-type games entice people on the lower rungs of the income ladder. And if some appeal could be made to wealthier gamblers, presumably that would tap into the same customer base state casinos are seeking.

There continues to be an unsavory aspect to Pennsylvania’s ever-growing pursuit of gambling dollars. It’s an industry that does not promote growth or real economic development.

To the contrary, it drains funds from the pockets of Pennsylvanians. Harrisburg should aspire to something better.