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Pa.’s gambling bet

Tribune-Review
| Saturday, May 19, 2018 5:13 p.m
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The Pennsylvania Legislature is going to make millions of Pennsylvania sports bettors happy (and likely, thousands of them broke).

State Gaming Control officials and lawmakers are working out the particulars concerning legalized sports betting — including what the state’s cut will be.

Right now, the state is planning to tax sports bets at 36 percent. It’s a rate that some experts say is unrealistic, especially compared to Nevada’s 6.75 percent and New Jersey’s planned 8 percent and West Virginia’s 10 percent. There also have been discussions of charging casinos in the state $10 million for a sports betting license.

The U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for this last Monday by striking down a 1992 law that barred every state but Nevada from offering sports betting.

Like others, Pennsylvania lawmakers and betting outfits have been standing on the sidelines since last year just waiting for the Supreme Court to rule the way it did. The Legislature already approved the concept of sports gambling.

There’s no question that many want to bet on sports legally. The American Gaming Association estimates $154 billion was bet illegally on sports in 2016, and close to $10 billion this year on the NCAA’s basketball tournament alone.

State Rep. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township, Westmoreland County, rightfully notes that the state should require a sports betting entity to have a physical presence in Pennsylvania. That would prevent betting websites from monopolizing the state’s sports betting industry.

So it’s a given that sports bettors will be happy and the state treasury will take new revenue. It might be less than you think, though: Nevada brought in just $17 million on $4.9 billion in bets.

Sports betting is a relatively harmless vice — we expect it to cause far fewer problems than we foresee when (not if) the state approves recreational marijuana use.

But the larger concern we have is with the Legislature. It’s running out of vices to turn into revenue. Pennsylvania increased its tax on cigarettes, tobacco and vaping in recent years; it owns its own liquor stores.

At some point, it has to stop taxing sins and rein in spending. It seems that point has arrived. Just to name one example, we’ve never seen routine state road repairs and maintenance put off for as long it is now.

Gov. Wolf’s proposed $33 billion 2018-19 budget banks on sports betting and borrowing $1.5 billion against a one-time windfall to make ends meet.

And then we’ll all have to ignore the hypocrisy that comes with legalizing another vice just so the state can get its share. With gambling, it started with the Lottery in 1972 and all of its expansions, then escalated over the years, through joining with other states for Powerball and the rise of casinos.

The hypocrisy extends to sports leagues. Remember when the NFL forced the Rooney family to restructure its ownership to prevent some of the Steelers owners from divesting themselves from horse racing and dog racing tracks in New York and Florida, respectively?

It was to maintain the league’s integrity. The NFL is still talking about preserving the integrity of the game.

But the NFL also is talking about getting a fee from point spreads bet on games, partnering with casinos and making it possible for fans attending NFL games to make bets during the game playing out in front of them.

No matter what the details of sports betting in Pennsylvania turn out to be, the state needs to raise revenue through increased prosperity but also through curtailed spending.

But that’s certainly no sure bet.

Categories: Editorials
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