Pennsylvania’s and Delaware’s Disgrace: Risking the Poor to Balance the Budgets

Delaware and Pennsylvania, facing state budget deficits that would require political courage and citizen sacrifice to address, has taken the craven route of other states (with more sure to follow) by legalizing casino gambling.

In Pennsylvania, State Republicans, the majority party in the state senate, had opposed the expansion of gambling , but capitulated when faced with the reality of having to choose between cutting jobs and services or raising taxes. Instead, the Republicans joined with Democrats, those champions of the weak and powerless,  to victimize the poorest people in the state for profit.

“If we were in a surplus situation, this discussion would not be happening,” the Republican senate majority leader Dominic Pileggi told the press. “We have a historic crisis in our economy … we need to look to find revenue.” Pennsylvania thinks the new table games will raise about $640 million in taxes over the next two years. That makes exposing desperate lower class gamblers to the empty hope of a big pay-off at the tables all right. This is what passes for ethical reasoning in state governance.

The question the pols won’t answer is “raise taxes from who?” The answer is, as it always is and has been, the least wealthy economic groups. They are the individuals who spend on state lotteries far in excess of their means; they are the ones who are most likely to be trapped in gambling addiction. The casinos take their money, the state gets the tax, wealthier citizens are spared the responsibility of paying for state services, and politicians don’t have to face their anger at the polls. And the gambling poor, who lose meager savings, default on mortgages, neglect their families and waste resources that could be used to launch businesses, pay for education, or create savings to begin the climb out of poverty?

“Hey, it’s their choice. Nobody makes them gamble.”

Casino gambling, we know, creates the perfect conditions for addiction. State governments tax the use of alcohol and cigarettes with the (claimed) objective of discouraging their use, but states like Pennsylvania and Delaware promote and encourage  equally destructive conduct  through legalized gambling. Once a state goes that route, there is no returning. The state becomes addicted too. No future studies showing that the poor are contributing most of that $640 million will persuade Pennsylvania legislators to find legitimate ways to balance the budget. No, they will just fund some “gambling education” programs.

“Here’s why this is bad for you; please do as much of it as possible, so we can pay for your boss’s neighborhood’s high school.”

The next addiction that state governments will try profiting from is recreational drugs. State sanctioned meth bars, perhaps. “A Clockwork Orange,” here we come!

“Hey, it’s their choice!”

Governments are supposed to protect the most vulnerable in society, not profit from their greatest vulnerabilities. Seeing Delaware and Pennsylvania rush to legalize casino gambling rather than do the hard and unpopular work of balancing taxes and expenditures makes it clear that responsibility, fairness, and courage are declining resources in our state legislatures.

One thought on “Pennsylvania’s and Delaware’s Disgrace: Risking the Poor to Balance the Budgets

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