Dialogue needed on pros, cons of casino possibility

Rumors regarding a possible Altoona area casino have re-emerged, and no one should be surprised.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly’s action authorizing 10 casinos, in areas where such gambling meccas currently don’t exist, makes the Mountain City, State College and numerous other places across the state candidates for the commonwealth’s gambling-expansion initiative.

Just a reminder: The soon-to-be-implemented introduction of a number of new gambling options isn’t a result of state residents clamoring for more gambling sites; the gambling expansion is resulting from the Legislature’s inability to make the tough decisions needed to complete funding of the state budget in a more responsible way.

Even if this bloated gambling-opportunities plan concocted by lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf achieves revenue predictions for the first year or so, there’s no guarantee it will produce the hoped-for steady stream of money for state coffers over the longer term.

The issue of saturation could come into play, as well as stepped-up competition from other states for the same gambling dollars.

Most people don’t have unlimited sources of funds. Meanwhile, the existence of more casinos will translate into more problem gamblers who will have to come to grips with their “addiction,” preferably sooner rather than later.

There also will continue to be the desire of locals who enjoy casino gambling to travel to distant casinos, rather than remain glued to the same offerings at their local gambling house.

What all of that means for Altoona and its environs is the necessity, even at this early date, to begin dialogue about whether this area should try to lure one of the casinos — dubbed “satellite” casinos — here.

The dialogue should focus on the economic perspective as well as the people, families and neighborhoods perspective.

From the people’s vantage point, residents will have to decide whether a casino will be good for Altoona in terms of maintaining the current attractiveness and vibrancy that make this community such a great place to live and work.

They’ll have to decide whether the potentially lower local taxes that having a casino here might make possible are worth whatever negative impacts might come with being a “casino town.”

There will be excitement in the business community in anticipation of the economic benefits stemming from such a people generator.

However, the business community, as well as residents, need to start weighing the full depth and breadth of the casino issue soon, even though there’s no assurance yet regarding Altoona’s being considered a serious candidate for such a facility.

Start collecting input from all of the area’s segments and interests.

In fact, a good move would be appointment of a task force to initiate and oversee the important evaluation.

Last Sunday’s front-page Mirror article “Rumors of Altoona-area casino return” quoted Blair County Chamber of Commerce President Joe Hurd, who pointed out that “most of the conversations we’ve had with anybody that seems to have any degree of knowledge … have never really given us a reason to be too optimistic that a casino is coming our way.”

Still, the local area has a right to oppose, as well as welcome, a gambling facility here, if Altoona begins being regarded as a strong candidate.

Everyone must be accorded a formal opportunity to be heard.

Opening of that discussion window — not only here but in other communities — must begin soon, not when it might be too late.

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