Setting the odds on more gambling in Pa.
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?