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Editorial: Pa. legislators need smart bet on casino campaign contribution law | TribLIVE.com
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Editorial: Pa. legislators need smart bet on casino campaign contribution law

Tribune-Review
| Tuesday, September 25, 2018 5:33 p.m
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Andrew Russell | Trib Total Medi
Customers at Rivers Casino on Pittsburgh's North Shore, shown here Tuesday, June 30, 2015, play on the gaming floor. Year-over-year growth that saw Pennsylvania rocket up the list of the nation’s most profitable casino industries has come to an end. For the fourth consecutive year, casino gambling revenues will come in around $3.1 billion — still good enough to rank the state No. 2 in the country,al though that could change as New York builds new casinos over the next few years.

It makes sense that people who make money on an industry like to give money to candidates who support that industry.

So why should gambling be any different?

According to the American Gaming Association, the industry — from casinos to online gaming to tribal operations — tops $240 billion in economic impact in the U.S. That includes employing people and paying taxes.

And now that industry is free to make political donations in Pennsylvania.

Last week, a U.S. district judge said the state law that stopped casino owners and other gambling industry affiliates from making the donations was too wide a net and thus unconstitutional.

The law has been in place since the 2004 legalization of casinos in Pennsylvania. For 14 years, it has stood between the rush of money that came with pulling levers and rolling dice and the people running for office who would make decisions about things like regulations, expansions and more.

Since that first slot machine took a Pennsylvania dollar, things have gotten big. There are more casinos. There are more planned. A mini-casino is in the works for the Westmoreland Mall , with a license that cost $40.1 million.

The people behind these operations want a voice. The judge is no doubt right that the catch-all ban was too far. After all, other major industries in Pennsylvania aren’t cut out of the political process in the same way. The decision may rectify a too-stringent law.

But the judge didn’t just rip up the idea and throw it in the trash. Her decision also made sure to leave a way for legislators to correct the breadth of the law, still allowing for restriction of money without cutting it off completely. It can allow more people to contribute to campaigns without opening a firehose of casino funding.

So now it’s up to the legislature. They know the drill. The same thing happened at the state level in 2009. The state Supreme Court knocked it down, and the legislators set it right back up, waiting for the lawsuit that prompted this decision. It was filed in 2017.

This time, they should take the opportunity to look at the judge’s recommendations closely and craft a law that is more than just a spin of the roulette wheel. The way to limit influence is to make common-sense regulations to minimize it, not just a hard line that will prompt another legal challenge and could ultimately result in a judicial solution.

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