EDITORIAL: Why the rush on gambling bill?

York Dispatch

We lament the lack of transparency and swift governmental passage of rules and legislation with some regularity in this space.

Pennsylvania State Capitol

Often, we feel like the lone voice in a chorus of those who feel journalists should be excluded from their process of lawmaking. A lack of governmental transparency just doesn’t typically rankle state residents for myriad reasons.

But when it comes to the state House passage of what The Associated Press referred to as “sprawling gambling legislation” Wednesday, we are not alone in being left out of the process. And that fact has angered lawmakers and other stakeholders who also are in the dark about the potential impact of the massive gambling bill.

The legislation would expand casino-style gambling to the internet, airports, bars and elsewhere in an attempt by some state legislators to address a looming budget deficit this budget season.

Pennsylvania House OKs biggest gambling expansion in years

It was passed just hours after a revised document — and a hefty one at that — made its way to lawmakers, some of whom said there was no way those who voted on it had time to digest its contents.

"If you've all had the chance to read it, I don't know how you did it," Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery, told colleagues, referring to the nearly 700-page document.

It passed narrowly, 102-89, less than a year after similar legislation failed in the House. The vote capped years of unsuccessful efforts by some lawmakers to bring legal gambling to bars. Wolf has not revealed his position on the legislation but has said he is committed to working with the Legislature to reach consensus on gambling legislation.

Supporters say tax revenue from new gambling would benefit bar owners, local governments, veterans organizations and volunteer fire companies, while tapping into activities — online gambling and video gambling in bars — that are already going on, albeit illegally.

The Susquehanna River is seen in the background of this aerial photograph of the Capitol complex in Harrisburg.

Opponents warned of a wave of gambling addiction and argued that widespread gambling in bars would cannibalize the money for schools that is fed by casino revenue and the money for programs for the elderly that is supplied by lottery play, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Scott Petri, R-Bucks, opposed it, too, saying the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the Pennsylvania State Police had not had a chance to give input on the regulatory scheme envisioned by the bill for new license applicants.

"We're trying to jam something through quickly, and we're trying to get it in under cover of night," Petri said.

Whether you believe gambling is a good way for a state to raise revenue and avoid raising taxes or not, a pivotal issue remains: Should such a massive piece of legislation  be swiftly heralded through without proper vetting and debate?

Whether we are the lone voice or one of chorus on that measure, we vote no.

— The Associated Press contributed to this editorial.