Faced with growing money problems, Pennsylvanians should not be surprised if legalized gambling comes to their corner pub as part of the next state budget.
For years, some have pushed for the legalization of video poker machines to help a variety of causes, such as Gov. Ed Rendell's proposal last year to legalize video poker and use the proceeds to help pay for college tuition.
Even though the state has an estimated 17,000 illegal video poker machines, efforts to legalize them have never been able to catch the public's and lawmakers' favor.
That could change this year, given the way a perfect storm of budget problems is merging to swamp Pennsylvania.
A quick recap:
Those things could be enough to make video poker a winner, especially given state Rep. Paul Costa's proposal.
The Allegheny County Democrat wants to legalize video poker in bars and clubs and use the tax revenue to pay for the share of the state police cost - about $500 million - currently coming from the Motor License Fund. That would free up those funds for roads, bridges and mass transit.
Numerous officials have suggested over the years switching the burden of paying for two-thirds of the cost of the state police from the Motor License Fund to the state general fund. The difficulty is trying to come up with the money to do so.
If Costa's plan is adopted, Pennsylvania has the potential to plug the hole in transportation funding, without creating an additional burden on the general fund.
"There is not a desire to raise gas taxes. There is not a desire to raise any other taxes or to raise [vehicle] registration fees," Costa told The Patriot-News. "So this is a way to raise revenue without raising taxes."
Will that argument be enough for video poker to squeak to approval?
This isn't a step Pennsylvania should take blindly. More opportunities for people to gamble increase the potential for more residents to become gambling addicts. That has a huge cost to society that should not be ignored.
But in a tough budget year, legislators may see Costa's proposal as the lesser of the evils. Last year, the Legislature approved table games at casinos to help balance the budget, so such action has a precedent.
It would be wrong to say legalized video poker is a done deal.
But without widespread, vocal opposition and suggestions of acceptable alternatives for addressing the budget problem, the odds for video poker would seem to be on the rise.