A billion new bucks

Columnist : Albert Paschall

Governor Rendell can’t wait to get slot machines rolled out in Pennsylvania. Fourteen locations with 61,000 slot machines are supposed to generate a billion new dollars a year for all kinds of good causes. I want the governor to succeed but it’s not going to come from people like me.

I am probably the world’s lousiest gambler. I hate to lose and I always do. Just recently took my rolls of quarters to make my annual donation to Harrah’s Casino in Atlantic City only to find their slots no longer took quarters. It didn’t matter. I still managed to lose my 50 bucks in about 20 minutes. Last year I hit for a couple of hundred bucks and took it home so I figure in the last 10 years I’ve donated about $300 to New Jersey’s gaming revenues.

There’s no machine that can manufacture money like a casino can. Three o’clock on a beautiful Saturday afternoon with miles of beaches nearby and people are standing in line. Serious gamblers waiting to play everything from Baccarat to Craps and Keno. Of course there are the infamous slots for people like me. Harrah’s alone boasts nearly 4,000 of them. Harrah’s and 11 other casinos in Atlantic City generated just under $600 million last year according the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.
Those casinos by the sea aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Nor are the gaming parlors in Delaware, Ohio, New York and West Virginia.

Now the Governor has already figured out how to spend the billion. First it goes to property tax relief. He tried to force something called Act 72 on the state’s school districts but they wouldn’t roll with his dice. Seems not many of them were confident that they’d get the billion new bucks. They were also really terrified of something called a backend referendum that would have allowed taxpayers to vote on school district budget increases. I don’t blame them. After all, if the general assembly can vote themselves huge raises in the middle of the night with no thought to any kind of public discussion why should all the school directors who put in hours and hours of tedious time doing budgets come up on the losing end?
To get the couple of hundred bucks a year the Governor claims every homeowner will save on school taxes, each homeowner would have to lose around $300 a year in a slots parlor. Odds are that a lot of people are going to be luckier at slot machines than I am.

The Governor’s really rolling the dice spending money from slots’ revenue before it’s in the state treasury. Fourteen slots locations won’t generate a billion new bucks and creating more venues will just be market saturation. No net gain.
Someday, a year or so after Pennsylvania’s first slot machines have hit the market the general assembly will be voting again. For Poker, Keno and Baccarat. Real gambling in Pennsylvania but it still won’t bring in a billion new bucks.

Albert Paschall
Senior Fellow
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.

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