New Castle News


February 21, 2014

Our Opinion: Expanding gambling option falls flat on its face

NEW CASTLE — Perhaps it’s good that every now and then, government gains a glimpse of the real world.

And so it is with Pennsylvania’s latest effort to squeeze the goose that lays the golden gambling eggs.

Last year, state lawmakers decided they could generate extra revenue by allowing bars and restaurants to run their own small games of chance. These facilities would require licenses and the commonwealth would get a piece of the action.

In fact, the anticipation of new money is no small matter. The state budget just proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett estimated revenues from these games in the coming fiscal year at $102 million.

But a funny thing happened after Pennsylvania began to accept applications for small games licenses. The rush to obtain them turned out to be a dribble. So far, just six entities have applied, and two of those applications were deemed incomplete.

Somehow, we find it hard to believe 50-50 raffles at four taverns will produce $102 million for Pennsylvania.

State officials are now trying to determine what went wrong. Initially, it appears blame will be laid at the feet of government bureaucracy.

The Senate Appropriations Committee conducted a hearing on the matter this week and questioned procedures required by regulators in order for a business to obtain a small games license. It turns out the process includes four different applications, fingerprinting and a $2,000 fee. All of the information is reviewed by multiple agencies, all of which can demand more information.

Considering the fact small games of chance aren’t huge money makers for those running them, it’s apparently beginning to dawn on lawmakers that the bars they believed would jump at the chance to make money for the commonwealth aren’t all that enthused. And while the bureaucracy set up to handle matters may be a factor, we’re not sure that’s the only problem.

It’s hardly a secret that illegal gambling takes many forms in Pennsylvania. Some of that can be found in bars, private clubs and the like.

If these entities are already engaged in such practices, the idea of applying for a license that would oblige them to share the proceeds with Pennsylvania probably isn’t very appealing.

We have noticed that in recent weeks, with passage of the small games of chance law, state police in parts of Pennsylvania have apparently stepped up enforcement of gambling laws involving bars and clubs. This has led some lawmakers to publicly criticize police efforts along these lines.

Pennsylvania’s foray into small games of chance is looking a bit like a protection racket — give us a share or pay the price. As the Legislature explores what went wrong here, maybe it should reassess the commonwealth’s growing dependence on gambling.

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