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. ••