casino

THE ISSUE

State officials are setting their sights on gambling expansion in an effort to fill a $2 billion budget deficit, LNP reported Wednesday. One of several proposals under consideration in recent weeks would allow for 10 new “satellite casinos.” With up to 700 slot machines and 100 table games, they would be smaller than the existing dozen casinos that were established after gambling became legal here in 2004. None of the new facilities would be allowed within 25 miles of current ones. Proponents say satellite casinos would provide millions in licensing fees and taxes for state and local governments.

It was a terrible idea 10 years ago and it’s still a terrible idea. The last thing Lancaster needs is a casino.

On the other hand, maybe it’s good that this issue comes up every decade or so. That way we get another chance to remind everyone of how terrible it is.

In 2006, a plan to turn the old Bulova building into a casino came up snake eyes.

Republican legislators from Lancaster County gathered 15,000 signatures and organized rallies to oppose a $150 million casino.

“People were vehemently opposed to it and others thought it was an interesting idea, and everything in between,” Lisa Riggs, president of the Economic Development Co. of Lancaster County, told LNP.

As LNP’s Sam Janesch reported Wednesday, if you compare how other casinos in the state are doing, a casino in Lancaster could potentially add millions to the city and county budgets. Two existing casinos that could have similar specifications to satellite casinos, were they to open in Lancaster, pulled in $3.7 million and $1.3 million for their local governments in 2015-16, according to data from the Gaming Control Board.

Those are some nice numbers but still not a reason to do it.

It’s a long shot at best at this point, and Lancaster hasn’t yet been mentioned as a specific location. Still, given the history, we feel an obligation to offer a reminder that a casino is not, nor should it ever be, a remedy to years of fiscal irresponsibility.

Gambling has become the in-case-of-emergency-break-glass answer to budgeting. “We’re broke. We’re out of ideas. How about, um, um, more gambling!”

We’re relieved to see Republican lawmakers from Lancaster County voicing their opposition to this approach.

“It’s hard for me to see any expansion of gambling I could support,” state Sen. Ryan Aument, of Landisville, told LNP.

“I personally am not a supporter of gambling. I think that can be problematic in itself, but the (Republican) caucus as a whole is supportive of it,” state Rep. Keith Greiner, of West Lampeter Township, said.

Back in March, when state lawmakers unveiled a proposal to legalize some 40,000 illegal video gaming terminals already in operation across Pennsylvania, we wrote that we weren’t convinced for two reasons.

First, the revenue projections are often wrong.

“Every time we’ve counted on gambling in the budget those revenues have undershot it or something unexpected has happened, such as the decrease of the lottery fund in response to the expansion of table games,” state Rep. Bryan Cutler, a Peach Bottom Republican, told LNP at the time.

Keep in mind that the lottery funds important services for senior citizens. Effectively transferring lottery revenue to casinos is not an answer to current or future problems.

Second, and most important, we simply didn’t believe the people of Lancaster County had an appetite for an expansion of gambling. Four months later, we have no reason to believe they’d be willing to welcome a casino. If there’s market research out there that indicates otherwise, we’ll stand corrected.

In the meantime, we again ask our lawmakers to find another way.

We know the state is financially strapped, but a casino is not the answer.

Before this notion gains any serious traction, it needs to be stuffed into the state Capitol’s crawl space of bad ideas, where it will have plenty of company.

The quixotic vision of a casino came too close to becoming reality a decade ago. And desperation has a way of turning long shots into possibilities.