A bad bet

Some­time over the last 41 years, the Pennsylvania Lot­tery has be­come as much a part of our daily lives as listen­ing to the ra­dio on the way to work or turn­ing on the porch light at night.

That’s be­cause we usu­ally buy our lot­tery tick­ets while do­ing something else. When gass­ing up the car, we step in­side the shop and buy a tick­et. And when the Powerball reaches the stra­to­sphere, we join our fel­low of­fice work­ers to buy chances in bulk.

In ex­change, we get to fan­tas­ize for a few days about what we’d do with all that money. And we know that our state’s seni­or cit­izen pro­grams be­ne­fit in a big way from the lot­tery’s pro­ceeds.

So, it is no won­der that we were startled to learn that Gov. Tom Corbett, with very little pub­lic in­put, de­cided to privat­ize the state’s lot­tery sys­tem. He’s awar­ded a man­age­ment con­tract to Cam­elot Glob­al Ser­vices, a Brit­ish firm that runs that coun­try’s na­tion­al lot­tery and was the lone bid­der for Pennsylvania’s busi­ness.

Cam­elot has prom­ised big re­turns, $34 bil­lion, over the course of the 20-year pact. It plans to add keno games to tav­erns and to provide on­line ac­cess to lot­tery games.

In ex­plain­ing his move, an­nounced Jan. 11, the Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor said, “Our state’s grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of seni­ors de­mands that we act now to en­sure the con­tin­ued strength and vi­tal­ity of pro­grams sup­port­ing older Pennsylvani­ans.” It is ex­pec­ted that a quarter of the state’s pop­u­la­tion will be over age 60 by the year 2030.

But what’s the hurry? Wasn’t there time for ex­tens­ive pub­lic de­bate about the best way to pro­ceed?

There’s no doubt our cur­rent, state-run sys­tem is a suc­cess. In the last fisc­al year, the lot­tery set a re­cord of $3.5 bil­lion in sales that provided $1.3 bil­lion in fund­ing for pro­grams for seni­ors, and its op­er­at­ing costs are small.

We agree with state Rep. John Sabat­ina, who on these pages last week wrote a guest column ob­ject­ing to what the gov­ernor did and how he went about do­ing it. And we ap­plaud state Rep. Ed Neilson and state Sen. Christine Tartagli­one for join­ing AF­SCME, the big pub­lic em­ploy­ees’ uni­on, in fil­ing suit to block the move. 

Whatever the mer­its of be­ing “in Cam­elot” we think the gov­ernor stumbled. He failed to enter the pub­lic square, state his case and win the day with his ar­gu­ment. In­stead, he ruled by ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion.

The right thing to do is to re­turn “the people’s lot­tery” to the good folks of Pennsylvania, and let us de­cide through our law­makers wheth­er turn­ing this homegrown game over to private hands is a good idea. ••

You can reach at lswanson@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus