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as seen on phillyBurbs.com

A bad bet
If he who is without sin gets to cast the first stone, I'll be in the back of the line with a pebble.

Four rolls in and it was getting really ugly. I lost again in this weird dice game and was now being forced to drink a mixture of sloe gin and tequila.

"Geez, how did I get into this mess," I thought, while wiping my chin in the bathroom a few minutes later.

The day had started out pretty good. I won $250 in 40 minutes playing blackjack in Harrah's New Orleans casino.

About 14 hours later, though, the money was gone, blown on an incalculable number of liquor shots in Bourbon Street bars for myself and friends. I was now spending my own money in this late night drinking game against two bartenders, a hooker and a guy so drunk all he could do was smile.

Why are these New Orleans bartenders smiling? At 10 a.m., they finally managed to drink me under the table.

Bleary-eyed from the experience scant hours later, I didn't realize how much I stunned Bill, a co-worker and one of my vacation compatriots, when he asked if I supported gambling expansion in Pennsylvania.

"No way," I replied, arguing that gambling creates far more social ills than the revenue it generates can ever solve.

"What?" Bill said, incredulously. "No offense, but you're the last person I would have expected to make a moral argument against gambling."

Yeah, I know. If he who is without sin gets to cast the first stone, I'll be in the back of the line with a pebble.

To me, it's all about temptation and corruption.

Although I'm neither an addicted gambler nor a drunk, all of my vacations since I became an adult have focused on sin - from drinking binges like this in New Orleans, to the sleepless week I spent at the tables in Las Vegas.

But hey, that's what vacation is for. You're on holiday, it's the two weeks out of the year you get to drop your inhibitions and enjoy yourself. Anything's fair game, just so long as you don't hurt anybody or have to ask the officer to loosen the handcuffs.

The rest of the year, you work like a dog for your meager bone and pray that someday, you may actually have enough buried in the backyard to retire.

There is no way I would want to act like this the other 50 weeks out of the year. It's just too damn expensive.

Thankfully, I don't have to.

Pennsylvania's DUI laws, which keep getting tougher, prevent me from imbibing too much on occasional nights out with friends.

And, for now, the nearest blackjack table is two hours away in Atlantic City, just far enough not to tempt me to drive there every weekend.

The distance wasn't too great for one of my Bucks County neighbors when I was a kid. Corrupted by the lure of easy money, he went there on weekends and wound up losing his business, his house and, hopefully for her sake, his wife.

Move that green felt table to a parlor in center city Philly or put it at Philadelphia Park in Bensalem, though, and the temptation is bound to increase for me and millions of others.

How many more will end up like my poor ex-neighbor? And all that money the casinos wrested from him - not to mention millionaires like former Eagles owner Leonard Tose and ex-U.S. drug Czar William Bennett - did so much to gentrify Atlantic City.

Generations of Ralises enjoyed spending time at "the shore" in Atlantic City. But most of us haven't gone there on long trips since the casinos moved in.

As a child, I used to vacation there with my family, like generations of Ralises before us. But that was before the casinos moved in. Now, if you step two blocks off the boardwalk in the wrong direction, you're taking your life in your hands.

Sure, gaming tables in Philly might mean jobs. It got lots of folks in New Orleans work, too. I know, because it seemed half of them were in front of me in line cashing out their Harrah's paychecks for chips. And they're the lucky ones.

Their counterparts at Bally's riverboat casino are wondering where they will soon be working now that their employer can't afford to pay its rent, according to the Times-Picayune on July 13. Just how a casino - a business designed to separate suckers, I mean, gamblers, from their money - can go belly up is beyond me.

It's also apparently beyond the concern of Pennsylvania's lawmakers, many of whom see gambling as the cure-all for the Commonwealth's current budget problems.

Early Saturday morning, the state House voted 120-81 to allow slot machines to be placed in 11 parlors, mostly at horse racetracks. The state will sell licenses for $50 million each and a portion of the profits will be used to finance $1 billion in school property tax relief.

The bill now moves to the state Senate, which approved a similar bill last month. If it's approved, the measure will be sent on to Gov. Rendell for his signature.

HOW THEY VOTED

Votes Saturday as the House, on a 120-81 vote, passed a measure to legalize 11 slot-machine gambling parlors in Pennsylvania to provide property-tax relief to school districts. Voting yes were 33 Republicans and 87 Democrats. Voting no were 75 Republicans and 6 Democrats. Not voting were 0 Republicans and 1 Democrat.

The following votes were cast by Bucks county representatives:

Paul I. Clymer (R-Bucks), N
Thomas Corrigan Sr. (D-Bucks), Y
Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks), Y
Charles McIlhinney Jr. (R-Bucks), Y
Anthony J. Melio (D-Bucks), Y
Bernard T. O'Neill (R-Bucks), Y
Scott A. Petri (R-Bucks), Y
David J. Steil (R-Bucks), Y
Katherine M. Watson (R-Bucks), Y

To contact any of those legislators, click here.

To see the complete roll call vote, click here.

To e-mail Gov. Rendell, click here.

Rendell has proposed an economic plan that depends on slot machines to bring in about $500 million a year in state revenue to fund public schools.

The governor also has not ruled out other forms of gambling, but first wants to gauge how successful slots are at producing revenue and what kind of social impact results, spokesman Ken Snyder told The Associated Press.

Minority Whip Mike Veon has said he plans to push hard in coming weeks for riverboat gambling, an idea Rendell favored when he was mayor of Philly. Veon (D-Beaver) is a backroom mover and shaker. He served as chairman of the House Democratic Committee, a group that aids Democratic candidates by funneling soft money into their campaigns and by digging up dirt on their opponents.

The lone Bucks County representative to vote against the slots measure Saturday was Rep. Paul I. Clymer, R-Bucks. He wanted an 18-month moritorium so a special panel could study the social and economic impact of gambling expansion.

Social impact? I would have hoped we learned our lesson when our last attorney general - Ernie Preate - went to jail in 1995 for "mail fraud" after he accepted campaign contributions from operators of illegal video poker machines and failed to declare the money.

Gambling hasn't helped New Jersey, either. Its government has become so hooked on gambling revenue, that they couldn't balance their budget this year - the 25th anniversary of casinos in A.C. - without hiking the taxes casino patrons pay.

If that isn't a big enough lesson in the corrupting nature of legalized gambling for Rendell, Louisiana's last governor, Edwin Edwards, went to jail in 2000 for extorting money from businesses seeking gambling boat licenses in New Orleans.

The one thing I learned from my trip there is that money won is spent a hell of a lot quicker than money earned.

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 21, 2003