Set­ting the odds on more gambling in Pa.

The Review - - OPINION -

They say there’s no such thing as a sure bet.

Ex­cept, of course, for our friends in the Penn­syl­va­nia Leg­is­la­ture.

You can be on this: Ev­ery time the state needs rev­enue, our duly elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives will turn to their fa­vorite vice. Gambling.

It’s the crack co­caine of Har­ris­burg. And ap­par­ently just as ad­dict­ing.

The lat­est craze in Har­ris­burg is le­gal­ized sports gambling. Re­mem­ber when this used to be the sole prov­ince of Las Ve­gas? And if a trip to the desert was not in your bud­get, you could al­ways walk down to the cor­ner and get a lit­tle ac­tion with your lo­cal bookie.

Even­tu­ally, New Jer­sey horned in on Ve­gas’ casino ac­tion.

And, just as it did when casi­nos started ris­ing on the At­lantic City board­walk, Penn­syl­va­nia leg­is­la­tors looked on, the lust ev­i­dent in their eyes – and their wal­lets. Delaware even­tu­ally joined the rush to tap into the le­gal sports gam­ing mar­ket. Not to be out­done, Penn­syl­va­nia soon threw its hat in the ring.

Soon you will be able to plunk down a few bucks on your pro­fes­sional sports teams with­out leav­ing the Key­stone State.

This week state reg­u­la­tors granted a li­cense to Har­rah’s Philadel­phia Casino for sports wa­ger­ing. Don’t let that name fool you. This is the same Har­rah’s that was part of ush­er­ing in casino gambling along the Ch­ester wa­ter­front a decade ago.

Su­gar­house Casino, on the wa­ter­front just a few miles up I-95 in Philadel­phia, also was awarded a li­cense.

Af­ter an ini­tial pauses by the Penn­syl­va­nia casino in­dus­try, they now seem in­tent on get­ting in on the sports gambling mar­ket.

Why would they be a bit ret­i­cent?

Well, it ain’t cheap.

For starters, Penn­syl­va­nia de­mands a $10 mil­lion pay­ment for a li­cense. Then there is the Key­stone State’s take. Penn­syl­va­nia is rak­ing an as­tound­ing 34 per­cent off the top of the sports bet­ting jack­pot. Com­pare that with Ne­vada, where leg­is­la­tors take a mod­est 6.75 per­cent, and New Jer­sey’s tiered sys­tem of 8.5 per­cent for in-house bet­ting, 13 per­cent for on­line wa­ger­ing by the casi­nos, and 14.25 per­cent for on­line bet­ting run by race­tracks.

Make no mis­take, this is an eco­nomic bo­nanza for all in­volved. Both the city and county, as well as Penn­syl­va­nia, stand to share in all this sports bet­ting loot. But you can be just as sure that there is a price to pay for the state’s lat­est foray into le­gal­iz­ing gam­ing. It un­doubt­edly will leave a trail of bro­ken fam­i­lies, down-on-their-luck gam­blers, and wrecked per­sonal fi­nances.

That has not stopped the state be­fore. Don’t ex­pect it too, now.

This all started in­no­cently enough with the state lottery. What was once the fairly mod­est daily num­ber has now mor­phed into $1.6 bil­lion Mega Mil­lions jack­pots.

Gov. Ed Ren­dell ush­ered in slot ma­chine gambling at a series of casi­nos. It wasn’t long be­fore the state’s quench for money – and gambling to pro­vide it – led to ta­ble games, in ef­fect full-blown casi­nos.

There is a com­mon theme in all this.

Just ask Gov. Tom Wolf. The man fac­ing re-elec­tion next Tues­day rode to the gov­er­nor’s man­sion four years ago on a pledge to re­store the steep cuts in ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing, in­clud­ing the loss of fed­eral stim­u­lus dol­lars, that took place un­der his pre­de­ces­sor, Repub­li­can Gov. Tom Cor­bett.

And how was Wolf plan­ning to pay for all this? He wanted to en­act a new sev­er­ance tax on the state’s bur­geon­ing nat­u­ral gas in­dus­try. Cor­bett was cam­paign­ing on a pledge not to raise taxes. He opted for an “im­pact fee” on the in­dus­try in­stead.

The vot­ers like Wolf’s mes­sage. The Leg­is­la­ture, where Repub­li­cans hold ma­jori­ties in both cham­bers, were not nearly as en­thralled. They re­jected Wolf’s tax plan. Then they al­most laughed them­selves silly when he came back the fol­low­ing year with a plan to in­crease both the per­sonal in­come and sales taxes. Both ideas went nowhere.

Now it’s back to bet­ting. Isn’t it al­ways?

Af­ter that ini­tial re­luc­tance, five of the state’s 13 casi­nos now have ap­plied for and been ap­proved for the hefty li­censes.

Har­rah’s has not yet in­di­cated when they will ac­tu­ally be able to get their sports gam­ing op­er­a­tion up and run­ning.

In their pre­sen­ta­tion this week be­fore the state Gam­ing Con­trol Board in Har­ris­burg, they laid out plans for a 4,322-square-foot sports­book in­side their ex­ist­ing com­plex off Route 291 in Ch­ester.

The new fa­cil­ity will fea­ture 40 flat-screen TVs car­ry­ing all the ma­jor sports, as well as in­ter­na­tional and col­lege sports pack­ages.

Har­rah’s said they also plan to ex­pand their food and bev­er­age of­fer­ings.

Ac­cord­ing to their li­cense ap­pli­ca­tion, all this sports wa­ger­ing will add 10 jobs to Har­rah’s sta­ble of em­ploy­ees in Ch­ester.

Even­tu­ally, Penn­syl­va­nia will run out of things to gam­ble on. At least we think they will. At that point, maybe our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives will take a se­ri­ous look at the state’s fis­cal fol­lies, how much rev­enue is needed, and how best to raise it.

Un­til then, they will con­tinue to roll the dice.

So what are the odds for the Ea­gles re­peat­ing as Su­per Bowl champs, any­how?

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