But when will we get poker tables?Sen. Vincent Fumo released a letter today to the state gaming control board. The letter articulates a number of steps he believes Pennsylvania should take to minimize the negative impact of slot parlors across Pennsylvania. The original bill passed by the State Legislature already calls for .1% of all gaming revenue to be set aside for treatment programs designed to help people with addictions. According to the Inquirer, the state estimates between $1 billion and $3 billion will generated through gaming. This means between $1 million and $2 million dollars will be set aside to treat compulsive gambling.
Fumo's additional proposal calls for a number of things to protect people with addictions. The big suggestion is to ban check cashing at casinos. People wouldn't be able to cash social secuirty, welfare, unemployment, disability or any other type of government assistance. He also suggests that applicants be forced to submit a plan to identify problem gamblers and help them get treatment. Finally, Fumo wants every advertisement having to do with gaming to include information about how to get treatment for compulsive gambling and a clear plan for how casinos will deal with people who have placed themselves on the voluntary exclusion list.
Personally, I have always felt better ambivalent about legalized gambling as a source of revenue. I actually play quite a bit of poker, so I'm not morally against wagering or anything like that. (Side note: I personally think some of the content in poker blogs is some of funniest and well-written stuff on the web right now.) My source of concern comes from another area. The first is that gaming revenue is being viewed as a magic bullet to solve budget problems. Sure, it will raise a lot of money for state coffers and that's a good thing because many of our important social programs are being underfunded. However, I'm not sure the solution is to create an entire industry just for the sake of taxing it.
What I'm trying to get at here is the inability of any politicians to talk about why raising revenue is necessary. Across Pennsylvania, schools are underfunded. Gov. Rendell was elected partially because of his problem to pour more funding into schools. People are eager to vote for a politician who promises an expansion and upgrade in services. However, people seem to be unable to make the connection that in order to have these good services, we have to raise taxes in some capacity. The Keystone Research Center noted in a recent report that a high number of corporations pay little or nothing in state and local taxes. If you're looking for a way to fund schools, roads, healthcare, and other programs, that's not a bad place to start.
That said, I'm glad Fumo and the state gaming board are at least talking about how to mitigate the potential social costs of the gaming industry. If we're going to have casinos in PA, we should do everything possible to ensure it is done in a responsible way.