We're number 2: No cause to cheer
The news released earlier this month that Pennsylvania was second only to Nevada in total gambling revenue in both 2011 and 2012 came as no surprise to those who have watched gambling's expansion in this state.
We have horse races and small games of chance and video poker machines. And now the governor wants to privatize the state lottery and the preferred bidder wants to add keno monitors in 3,000 restaurants and bars.
The biggest gambling towns in America used to be Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Now Philadelphia, with three casinos in the city and two not far away, is drawing customers from the New Jersey gambling mecca.
Admittedly, Nevada's number one ranking is not in danger.
Total gambling revenues in Nevada were $10.7 billion in 2011. Pennsylvania cleared a comparatively meager $3.5 billion.
But Pennsylvania is coming on strong, surpassing New Jersey and other states that suffered excessive gambling long before this state did.
We say "suffered'' because that's a word too rarely used in relation to gambling these days. Instead, Gov. Tom Corbett and other supporters like to talk about increased aid for senior citizens and property owners as spin-offs from the trade.
Rarely does anyone discuss the thousands of gambling addicts -- many of them young people -- who have lost thousands of dollars and even spent through their savings playing bad odds at casinos and even worse odds in the lottery.
And rarely does anyone mention the fact that gambling is a regressive activity -- that is, it harms the poor more than anyone else.
A wealthy gambler can lose $100 on the lottery or a horse race and never give it a second thought. A poor gambler is throwing away his family's food for a week.
There is a reason the United States has gone through alternating periods of gambling growth and gambling bans. It's because gambling growth benefits the owners of gambling enterprises and, often, organized crime, at the expense of those who cannot stay away from the allure of gaming tables or the possibility of huge lottery payouts.
The country is in a gambling growth spurt now, with Pennsylvania among the leaders.
A time will come when a sufficient number of Pennsylvanians and Americans will recognize once again that gambling is a losing proposition for most players and no panacea for taxpayers.
Unfortunately, given Corbett's stance on privatizing an expanded Pennsylvania Lottery, that time does not seem to be close at hand.
Pennsylvania is coming on strong, surpassing New Jersey and other states that suffered excessive gambling long before this state did.