The casino question: A little more study would be helpful
The ink was barely dry on legislation allowing 10 mini-casinos in the state when Williamsport Mayor Gabriel J. Campana began pushing to make the city one of the locations.
Campana reasoned that the casino would bring additional revenue to help balance Williamsport’s budgets in the future, preventing property tax increases and providing jobs. He said he has been in contact with two interested developers.
City Council did not sign on to that thinking, voting to opt out as a casino location.
There were concerns about the haste involved in the decision, with the state imposing a Dec. 31 deadline for a decision. There are concerns about crime increases that some say come with casinos. There are concerns that money spent at casinos will drain the pool available to support the state’s various Lottery games, which benefit senior citizens.
Council is not alone in its concerns. State College borough also opted out of the casino opportunity, as did several other local municipalities.
Unpacking the arguments pro and con, we wonder where a casino would have been located in the city, though there are locations in other areas around Williamsport that might make sense for a casino. So there were clear zoning and parking considerations unanswered.
If there is to be one in the area, we would suggest it be in a parcel large enough for a free-standing building and parking apart from a residential area. That would answer some of the crime concerns.
We don’t view the gambling addiction arguments as a level for rejecting casinos. People with those sorts of problems are already spending too much on Lotteries and perhaps illegal gambling. Casinos in our area won’t be creating that problem. On the revenue side, do we really know that revenue from casinos cuts into Lottery revenues? What do the ledger books say about that for areas of the state that already have casino gambling? It would have been nice for local government bodies to actually know the numbers before making in-or-out casino decisions.
The mini-casino initiative is certainly worth consideration, but state legislative leaders erred in demanding that municipalities make such a hasty decision at a time of the year when most of them were knee-deep with their own 2018 budget decisions.
State law permits the city and others to opt back in for casinos if the merits and situation change In our view, the best course for all concerned would be for the state to give municipalities an additional 90 days at the start of 2018 to study all their concerns before making a definite decision on the casinos.
The possible local revenues and jobs are too much to dismiss out of hand. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s not fair to label municipalities anti-business for opting out when they have legitimate concerns and no time to study them before making such a transcendent commitment on behalf of their communities.