Better gamble: Slots law fixes would reduce Pennsylvania's risk

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Pennsylvania's slots casino law is a work in progress. Ever since it was enacted in 2004, the statute has been poked, scorned, reviled and revised.

First the issue was whether legislators could own up to a 1 percent stake in a casino (bad idea). It was stripped from the law two years later. Controversy also swirled around the lame requirement that all casino machines be purchased from in-state distributors, virtually none of which existed at the time. That became history, too.

Since 2006, legislative reformers have sought other changes in the law. The latest is a raft of improvements put forth by two unlikely allies: Republican Sen. Jane Orie of McCandless, who opposed the legalization of slots, and Democratic Sen. Vincent Fumo of Philadelphia, who wrote the casino law.

Their revisions would toughen the state gaming board, broaden the public information on license applicants and reduce the role of politics. These are noble objectives, and the senators' bipartisan approach should win the bill considerable votes.

More specifically, they want Gaming Control Board members to serve full time and not be distracted by other occupations. That means barring them from receiving outside income, a reasonable condition since the state pays board members $145,000 and its chair $150,000.

The lawmakers would make more information about casino license applicants open for public inspection. While there's a need to let the companies keep trade secrets, personal medical histories and financial records private, the gaming board has been overly broad in interpreting what should be locked away from the public.

Ms. Orie and Mr. Fumo also would extend the law's ban on political contributions from casino operators to "licensed casino representatives," meaning those who lobby for casino interests couldn't donate to state election campaigns either. That's a sensible improvement since political gifts can be routed in myriad ways.

Other good changes include: prohibiting an applicant to borrow the initial $50 million license fee, requiring disclosure and Internet posting of information on the true identity of a casino's controlling interest and barring gaming board officials from taking a job in the gambling field for two years.

If enacted, these reforms won't be the last changes made to the slots law, but they'll take care of assorted problems that have surfaced in Pennsylvania's short experience. With the two-year legislative session winding to a close, lawmakers must act fast to get it done this year.



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