Casinos worth debate, but answers needed

Gambling revenue has become the sugar daddy for government. It’s the new dollar generator that is supposed to take care of fiscal wounds.

Certainly the state of Pennsylvania leans heavily on it. And the new budget deal allows up to 10 licenses for existing casino owners to bring miniaturized casinos into communities wanting to support gambling. Williamsport Mayor Gabriel J. Campana swooped in immediately on the opportunity, promising to market the city for it. The hope is that revenues from the casinos would bring in the funds to solve much of the city’s annual budget struggles.

We can’t fault him for his reasoning or aggression. He is correct that restaurants and lodging entities would get a shot in the arm from casino traffic. And we have no problem with him reaching out to casino interests to put the city on their radar. But the deadline is Dec. 31 for municipalities opting in or out on casinos and the issue deserves full public discussion before a decision is made.

What would the city’s revenues be from a casino? Where would they possibly be located? How would the presence of casinos impact Pennsylvania lottery revenues? Does the community have a network set up to handle fallout from gambling addiction? What law enforcement issues will it create? These questions need answered.

The idea should be pursued for the taxpayer benefits. This is not like the original state push into gambling under former Gov. Ed Rendell, who said the introduction of slot machines would create enough revenue to replace school property taxes. It was an unrealistic promise that showed itself to be even more foolhardy when gambling was established.

This new measure has been promoted as something that would bring direct revenues to municipalities, which the city of Williamsport clearly can use. But there must be full transparency start to finish – perhaps including a cost analysis – before casinos are approved for the city.