Finally, the right call on the state lottery

January 1, 2014

It’s about time.

Gov. Tom Corbett, who seemed to be in the definite minority in thinking it was a good idea to outsource operation of the Pennsylvania Lottery to a British company, has given up on his plan, at least for now.

The Republican governor has been fighting since 2012 to turn over management of the lottery to Camelot Global Services, which was the lone bidder for the job when Corbett put the lottery on the auction block.

Camelot certainly talked a good game, proposing a 20-year deal under which it would guarantee the state a total of at least $34 billion in profits.

Some wondered whether that projection was overly rosy or sustainable. But what really put the kibosh on the proposed deal was the rejection of the tentative contract by Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat who, shall we say, is not considered a chum of the governor. It was Kane’s position that Corbett’s plan represented an attempt to usurp the duties of the Legislature to make policy.

State Treasurer Rob McCord, another Democrat, joined in the dissent, noting at a news conference earlier this year that the price tag for Corbett’s effort to privatize the lottery already had passed the $4 million mark.

“This is real money that should have been used to help our senior citizens,” said McCord. “Instead, it has lined the pockets of consultants who are pursuing an ill-advised plan to privatize our efficient and well-administered lottery.”

McCord called the consulting contracts a “gross waste of money” but determined he could not legally intervene. Said the treasurer, “Unfortunately, the fiscal code does not allow me to block foolish payments, only unlawful ones.”

Over the past year, Corbett sought extension after extension in hopes of bringing the Camelot deal to fruition, but Monday, he called it quits.

While we can’t say with any certainty that Camelot’s profit projections were overstated, we can say absolutely that we did not support some of the ways in which the company planned to generate the cash.

Camelot, had it received the contract, intended to allow online lottery ticket sales and wanted to install keno gambling machines in Pennsylvania bars and restaurants.

Whatever the state’s funding needs may be, we think it unwise to provide even more opportunities, or to make it easier, for Pennsylvanians to gamble.

We don’t intend to lecture people about how they spend their own hard-earned money, but we also know that there are many who already are squandering cash they can hardly spare in hopes of getting rich, whether it be by playing the lottery or visiting one of the casinos that have popped up all over the state. For some of them, it’s a sickness, one that doesn’t need to be fed by expanding the reach of a state-operated (or Camelot-operated) gambling enterprise.

Gambling has some winners, but for every big winner, there’s a big loser. These gambling operations are, after all, in business to turn profits.

Corbett’s people made it known Monday that the governor hasn’t entirely given up on the idea of outsourcing operations of the lottery. Considering that polls have shown Pennsylvanians are against such a move, we doubt we’ll hear much about it over the next 10 months as Corbett seeks re-election. If he should win another term, we hope the governor would turn away from this idea and instead focus on any number of serious challenges facing the commonwealth.



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