The big winners in the 2004 legislation that legalized slot machine gambling in Pennsylvania were the casinos.

We shouldn't be surprised – the house always wins.

But legalized gambling was sold to Pennsylvanians as property tax relief, with former Gov. Ed Rendell predicting as much as $1 billion a year generated for the cause.

That sounded pretty good.

It turns out the "relief" has been a pittance.

The average Yorker's tax bill this year will be offset by $1 to $3 in gaming revenue, for an average tax reduction of $173.50.

That's a tiny fraction of the anticipated school property tax increases many residents are facing for the coming school year.

That's maddening enough, but now we learn one of the programs created by the slots legislation isn't really needed.

The grant fund to help local police departments fight illegal gambling has been sitting relatively untouched every year and now contains a surplus of $8 million.

That's even after legislators diverted $3 million of it per year into the property tax relief program.

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, has crafted a bill to use the rest to create a grant program for regional police departments that could use the money for anything from vehicle acquisition, speed-timing devices, uniforms, equipment, personnel costs, training and community policing.

Our first reaction why not divert all of the money to tax relief?

It might not make a huge difference split several million ways, but there's a principle involved.

Taxpayers were sold a bill of goods, and the state delivered next to nothing. We feel every penny of that "surplus" should go to them.

Still, Grove's bill might have the same effect, albeit in a round-about way.

His legislation would cover day-to-day police costs that would otherwise be borne by local taxpayers.

And by designating the funds for regional departments, it might spur more municipalities to consolidate forces and reduce the wasteful duplication of services that regularly drives up budgets and taxes across the state.

In many municipalities — not all — regionalization is a way to get more bang for police bucks. It's working in townships and boroughs across Pennsylvania.

Yet, still some people resist the idea out of hand, worrying about a loss of some vague "local control" they can't afford in the first place.

If Grove's bill can help some towns save money while encouraging others to do the same, it's a good bet in our book.