What if we don’t gamble?

What are state Sen. Joe Scarnati and state Reps. Matt Gabler and Cris Dush going to do if ordinary citizens say, “No, thank you” to spending enough additional money in mini-casinos to bring $200 million or more into the Pennsylvania Treasury?

I really don’t know, but they had better think of something, or else Pennsylvania is going to go into default, perhaps bankruptcy.

Right now, local governments in this area are saying, “No, thank you” to the state’s offer to allow mini-casinos (300-750 slot machines and 50 table games) to open in their areas.

What if we just decide to keep that $200 million in our pockets, rather than spend $400 million or so (to allow for jackpots, casino profits, etc.) in order to flesh out the state’s budget?

I hope we do just that.

I am not a no-gambling prude.

I gamble each and every day.

On Sundays, I check one Match 6 Pennsylvania Lottery ticket. On Mondays and Thursdays, I check a Cash for Life ticket (an odd game choice, given my age of 75 years). On Tuesdays and Fridays, it is Mega-Millions. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, it is Powerball.

That costs me $12 a week, give or take the occasional $2 or $4 I “win” by matching a few of each game’s string of winning numbers. Per year, that is $624 or so. My wife and I subsist on retirement pensions and Social Security, so that seems to be a reasonable outlay in return for the kick I get every day when I check the winning numbers on the Pennsylvania Lottery website. It’ll take a miracle for us to win a large jackpot, but God only needs one ticket to make a miracle.

But though I gamble, I also have come to understand “gambling” as practiced in casinos. It is not “gambling” in the sense of taking a reasonable chance on a nice profit.

No, casino gambling is, in my opinion, about as likely to make me rich as I would be if I wadded up the money I could spend in a casino and threw it into the Red Bank Creek.

“But what about the thrills, the excitement?”

C’mon. I am 75.

It is excitement enough for one day to check the results from one $1 or $2 lottery ticket.

Those three legislators I mentioned earlier are Republicans. Republicans controlled the Legislature this year. They are responsible for deciding to seek $200 million in revenue from gamblers rather than from taxes. Scarnati and Gabler are pretty much mainstream Republicans, so their responsibility is straightforward. Dush belongs to a minority of more financially responsible Republicans who tried to go down different paths to balance the budget, using one-time infusions from various pots of money squirreled away in the vast Pennsylvania web of finances.

Dush did not argue for the gambling, but as a member of the governing majority, he has to be held responsible for not having been able to persuade other Republicans to seek a more sensible solution than encouraging more gambling.

See, gambling is itself a gamble.

I am almost certain to pay my property taxes and my income taxes. If I do not, I can lose my home or my freedom; I can be put into jail. I am absolutely certain to pay my state sales tax; it is collected whenever I buy a covered product or service.

But the state cannot compel me to gamble at a casino.

What if we don’t?

Where, then, is the money to pay for our prisons? Our schools?

As the cliché has it, death and taxes are certain.

We might hate them, but we participate.

Eventually, every one of us dies.

Perennially, almost every one of us pays taxes.

But why should we gamble?

“It’s fun!”

Well, sure.

One can also say that it is “fun” to drive the wrong way on Interstate 80. Terrifying risks and impending gory mayhem sure do get the old adrenaline flowing, don’t they?

In our own lives, few among us are stupid enough to base our finances on what the Pennsylvania Legislature did this year.

Suppose our weekly budget is $1,000, not unrealistic for a family.

Do we “anticipate” $200 a week in winnings from playing the Lottery?

That would be stupid.

We get that required $1,000 a week by working at jobs for it, or by managing money we had previously invested, or by receiving steady payments from pensions or Social Security – money that is “there,” at least for the next few years.

But Pennsylvania is “anticipating” $200 million in money flowing into the state treasury because mini-casinos will lure us into giving up our money by sitting in front of slot machines or at table games.

Hah.

That little Lottery pastime, plus an occasional “sign the book” or handful of numbers slips at a nearby private club, ought to be more than enough “gambling” for people with any financial sense.

What happens if we don’t gamble?

The people in the Legislature and in the governor’s office will have left taxpayers holding the bag for another $200 million deficit, that’s what.

Kinda makes me queasy, just thinking about it.

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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net

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