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as seen on phillyBurbs.com

House wins, we lose
Slots to be angry about in Legislature's weekend gambling approval.

After blowing their attempt to pass pro-gambling legislation last year, legislators finally approved allowing up to 61,000 slot machines at 14 sites in Pennsylvania over the holiday weekend.

They waited until the 11th hour, after the governor threatened to furlough state workers if a budget couldn't be passed.

They waited until a holiday weekend, when the public's attention was diverted.

They did it in the dark, waiting until nearly 4 a.m. Friday in the Senate and early Sunday in the House to pass it.

They insisted that the licenses to the slots parlors be sold by the state for $50 million each, rather than auctioned off to the highest responsible bidder so that the public would get the best price possible.

To top it off, they allowed no public input in the process that will change parts of Pennsylvania forever.

Unlike umpteen lengthy bond refinancing questions voters face annually, the people who do the electing were never asked if they wanted the state to raise revenue by letting themselves and their neighbors get fleeced. (Yet, for some reason, medical malpractice and tort reform does take a public referendum?)

Meanwhile, any legislator who wants to, can buy up to a 1 percent interest in a slots parlor. That may not sound like much, but if just one of the parlors clears $150 million its first year, that's $1.5 million in some state lawmaker's pocket. 

All this, under the pretense of providing tax relief to homeowners.

This stinks to high heaven of government gone wild, of lawmakers with dollar signs in their eyes and of unregulated greed overruling public good. In short, Pennsylvania should change it new motto from "The State of Independence," to "A State of Disgrace."

Sure, the state will now force counties to lower their property tax rates if they want a share of the $1 billion - that's BILLION with a 'B' - expected slots windfall from the first year. But more of the taxing burden will then shift to people like me, working people who can't afford to buy a home yet.

Pennsylvania already has one of the highest concentrations of older people in the country. Do you think taxing their grandkids more will help keep them here?

The measure also does little to curb the state's real problem: overspending at all levels of government - especially school systems with skyrocketing teachers salaries.

It also doesn't eliminate the property tax, just reduces it temporarily and no one knows for how long.

Ask yourself, why does New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey look like a pauper begging for alms every year at budget time. That state has had legalized gambling in Atlantic City for 25 years now and should be rolling in the dough.

New Jersey found out the hard way that government expenses always escalate faster than the state's ability to raise revenue. It's vulture culture. Casinos feed off the pipe dreams of suckers, creating vast social problems that the state's stake in gambling can't possibly pay for.

Yet, when a few Pennsylvania lawmakers spoke up this weekend and complained "that the bill was crafted in secret by a handful of party leaders and lacks adequate safeguards against corruption and conflicts of interest among members of the state panel that would oversee the proposed 14 slots parlors," House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese accused the bill's critics of "demagoguing," according to the Associated Press.

This in a state that not-so-long-ago sent its attorney general to jail for failing to disclose political contributions from video poker machine makers.

"We are at the threshold of a historic moment," said DeWeese, D-Greene.

On that, he and I agree. All the Legislature has to do now is sell off the liquor stores so that booze flows freely, add some dice and card games, and let people wear concealed, unlicensed firearms to protect themselves from the social ills the rest will create.

And then, voila, we have the Wild West all over again. Historic indeed.

Dave Ralis' Pave The Grass column appears on Mondays. You can send him an e-mail at  or call him at 215-269-5051. To read his previous columns, click here.

July 5, 2004