"What's black and white and read all over?"

Saturday, December 10, 2005
Posted 1:36 PM by

Crapping out?

The push is now on to either repeal or expand Pennsylvania's legalized gambling.

Does state Rep. Paul Clymer enjoy tilting at windmills by trying to repeal the state's slot machine law?It surprisingly didn't make major headlines here, but state Rep. Paul Clymer (R-Bucks County) introduced a one-page bill this week to repeal Pennsylvania's slot machine law.

Clymer and I clashed on the reasons why the law (Act 71 of 2004) should be repealed when I was still writing my "Pave the grass" column for

Legislative leaders used a loophole in the state Sunshine Law to move the measure to a floor vote over the July 4th weekend last year without giving the public a say and with no debate.

On that basis alone, it should be repealed and the loophole closed, I wrote. Instead, lawmakers used the same method to pass their pay increase this year, which has since been repealed.

Clymer, however, is against legalized gambling on moral grounds, saying, a repeal is needed to "restore the social values that have made Pennsylvania the state we love to call home."

He also claims, "This repeal is necessary due to the lack of foresight in the creation of the law, which leaves Pennsylvania nearly defenseless in its ability to oversee the gambling operation and protect its own citizens from crime associated with this particular form of recreation."

I agree with his second point, but not his first. People are going to gamble no matter what. I just don't want the social ills it causes in my state. Let 'em drive to Atlantic City if they want to lose their life savings.

Clymer's bill, House Bill 2298, has 32 co-signers, but reportedly no support among House Republican leadership and no Senate counterpart, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Gov. Rendell's office has already vowed a veto if Clymer's bill ever gets to his desk.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese and Democratic Whip Michael R. Veon - the only two lawmakers to vote against repealing the pay raise - said they introduced a bill in February to expand legalized gambling so it includes roulette, blackjack and poker as well. (I have yet to find its House number or if it was wedged into another bill as an unrelated amendment - the way Act 71 was passed, but they issued a press release.)

To counter it, Clymer and 26 other legislators in August introduced H.B. 1909. a two-page bill which would prohibit further gambling expansion except by a voter referendum or two-thirds vote of the General Assembly.

If gambling expansion succeeds, it will be due to the efforts of state Reps. Bill DeWeese (left) and Mike Veon - the only two idiots who voted against repealing the pay hike lawmakers gave themselves.Nevertheless, DeWeese and Veon keep pushing hard for gambling expansion and Veon introduced another measure in July (House Bill 1876) that would prevent local zoning boards from prohibiting slots parlors.

"We started with slot machines and now we should complete the job because there is no practical difference between putting $10 in a slot machine and putting $10 on a blackjack or poker table," DeWeese said.

"Expanding gaming means more revenue to lower property taxes, more well-paying jobs at casinos and surrounding businesses and more tourism and related economic development dollars. By introducing this legislation, we are looking to start the debate," Veon said. "We want the appropriate committees - Tourism and Recreational Development, Finance - to take a long, hard look at this plan during the 2005-06 session and we think it will be clear that this is a smart investment in Pennsylvania's future."

Tell that to New Jersey. That state has had legalized gambling for 25 years now but will start next year $4 billion in debt. Meanwhile, Atlantic City is still a corrupt cesspool.

Pennsylvania's slots plan (pdf) already calls for 35,500 machines at 14 parlors raking in $2.94 billion in revenues a year, from which $1 billion in taxes would be used to lower property taxes state-wide.

By comparison, Atlantic City's 13 casinos have 37,067 machines producing revenues of $3.1 billion a year. (The casinos take in an additional $1.16 billion from table players).

By the way, Veon made headlines this week, when he asked Rendell to remove harness racing commissioner Richard J. Bolte Sr. on behalf of Centaur Inc., an Indianapolis-based developer seeking permission to build Valley View Downs in Veon's Beaver County district.

Centaur filed an appeal Thursday for reconsideration of its application, which was rejected last month because the site wasn't suitable. In the appeal, Centaur said Bolte should have recused himself because two drivers who have raced horses owned by Bolte testified in support of Bedford Downs, another proposed harness track. The winner of the state's last harness-racing license will be a shoo-in for a slots license.

It seems more than a little hypocritical for Veon, a member of the House Ethics & Official Conduct committee, to argue that Bolte has a conflict of interest, when Act 71 lets Veon or any other state legislator own up to 1 percent of a slots parlor.

One final note, another investor group this week removed the word "Gettysburg" from the title of its proposed gambling hall, hoping to counter criticism that the site is on top of the Civil War battlefield, or trying to cash in on the soldiers' sacrifice.
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