Desperate budget situation leads to gambling expansion

The state government revenue stream is swimming in red ink, with collections running far below expectations.

And it seems operational expenses keep rising. Those increases combine with a looming public pension financial crisis to put Pennsylvania in a desperate budget situation.

That desperation creates decisions like the largest expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania since 2004.

The state House approved sprawling legislation that allows casino-style gambling on the internet and in airports, bars and other venues.

The move is geared to creating hundreds of millions of dollars in fresh revenue to the state coffers from taxes and license fees.

House leaders chose this move over the alternative – a tax increase on all Pennsylvanians – in the hope of solving their budget woes.

Will it do what it is intended to do?

Supporters say it will help every entity from the state treasury to mom-and-pop bar owners to veterans organizations to volunteer fire companies, creating new revenues for all of them. They say in many cases illegal gambling already is going on and the state is getting no revenue from that.

Detractors warn of a new wave of gambling addiction, a very legitimate concern in our view.

They also argue that widespread gambling in bars will mean a reduced pool of money for people to spend on other state-sponsored gambling that benefits senior citizens and public education.

That is an equally serious concern.

The best alternative is reduced operational spending by state government that reduces the need for more revenue. But we’ve been asking for sharper budget ledger expenses for years, with no results. The state is spending about 40 percent more on its General Fund than it was at the turn of the century.

Until that changes, elected leaders will be looking to some dubious sources in a desperate search for new revenue that does not include increases in state sales and income taxes.