With the June 30 state budget deadline approaching, the General Assembly and Gov. Tom Wolf are scrambling to fill a $2.3 billion shortfall between Wolf’s proposed budget and expected revenues. The budget pressures could make horse-trading deals possible, if not likely.
Wolf wants to raise taxes on the Marcellus gas industry and boost funding for education. Republicans want to avoid tax increases and are again proposing to privatize liquor sales and sell the State Store system, putting Pennsylvania more in line with other states, which dropped Prohibition-era laws decades ago. Republicans are also pressing for action on the $49 billion gap in the public employee pension funds where current pension obligations cannot be met with current assets.
The pressure of the budget gap and approaching deadline has brought up another idea — more gambling. Proposals to expand gambling gained little support a few years ago but are getting a warmer reception as the budget crunch intensifies. Most lawmakers are desperate to avoid increasing taxes.
But relying on a big expansion of gambling would be a mistake. The proposal in the Senate would license Internet gambling, let existing casinos set up slot machines at satellite locations and at off-track betting locations. The casinos also want to serve alcohol 24 hours a day. A House bill would put slot machines at larger airports in the state.
None of these ideas are good for Pennsylvania. Turning every desktop computer, laptop and smartphone into a gambling device will dramatically increase public exposure to gambling. Serving alcohol around the clock can only be viewed as a way for casinos to keep gamblers entertained, lubricated and free-spending through the wee hours of the night, increasing casino profits — and gamblers’ losses.