Late-night gambling (bill) is bad

Our View

The public firestorm that erupted after Pennsylvania lawmakers granted themselves a big middle-of-the-night pay raise in July 2005 seemed to ensure that, thereafter, important votes would be conducted only during the light of day.

But now, just shy of the 12th anniversary of that infamous pay-raise vote that ended up costing more than 50 lawmakers their legislative careers, the state House of Representatives last Wednesday chose to ignore the lesson from a dozen years ago.

House lawmakers, by a vote of 102-89, used June 7’s evening darkness as cover for approving what’s been described as a sprawling expansion not only of casino-style gambling, but the Pennsylvania Lottery as well.

Perhaps last week’s vote won’t evoke the strong voter backlash witnessed a dozen years ago in response to lawmakers’ greedy move to enrich themselves.

However, state residents of today shouldn’t be happy that the 675-page gambling-expansion bill was voted upon only hours after it was made public — and about the fact that, prior to the vote, House members hadn’t even been given adequate time to read and digest the legislation’s provisions.

Even with the June 30 deadline for 2017-18 state budget passage moving ever closer, House lawmakers should have refused to vote until they had adequate time to read and consider the proposal.

The Senate must not imitate the House’s nighttime action, and the upper chamber must not fail to gather public comment, which the House neglected to do. The House didn’t even make time for official comment from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

In its current form, as passed by the House, the bill contains many potential concerns that demand extensive evaluation and study, a fact alluded to by House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Scott Petri, R-Bucks, who called the gambling measure “a complicated, convoluted regulatory scheme that we have no idea whether it’ll be effective.”

That observation pushes against the House’s opinion that revenue from expanded gambling is vital to state budget preparation currently underway.

House members need to face up to the fact — and admit to their constituents — that there’s no way that the proposed expansion of gaming will make a significant-enough dent in the state’s alleged $3 billion fiscal shortfall to consider it a fiscal savior.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that lawmakers haven’t given enough consideration to the potential human toll of creating more problem gamblers.

“There is a lot of good in this bill for everyone,” proclaimed Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, apparently also referring to new or expanded compulsive-gambling-prevention programs included in the legislation.

But it’ll be more difficult to curb gambling addiction if the huge gambling expansion — gambling temptation — that’s proposed comes to pass.

“We’re trying to jam something through quickly, and we’re trying to get it in under cover of night,” Petri said.

Even though last week’s nighttime action might not be considered as brazen as 2005’s pay-raise vote, it was, nevertheless, another indicator of the legislative dysfunction and fiscal irresponsibility that rule the commonwealth.

Pennsylvania needs well-thought-out, workable, long-term answers regarding its decade-long money crisis — answers not built on a foundation of gambling.

Gambling expansion should be a daytime last resort, not a nighttime escape hatch from difficult decisions that are long overdue.

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