Communities across Pennsylvania proving Governor Wolf, state legislature should never have looked to gambling as a “solution” to budget shortfall

Included in the massive, 939-page gambling expansion bill hastily passed in early November by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Wolf is a provision for local municipalities to opt-out of casino expansion, which now over 1,000 municipalities have exercised.

However, that provision came with a tight deadline just weeks away — December 31, 2017 — and no requirement that municipalities be informed of the opportunity to keep the casinos out. Knowing the corrosive effect such gambling sites can have on local families and communities, the Pennsylvania Family Council put together a comprehensive strategy to communicate with every municipality, as well as with constituents across the state, to encourage them to exercise this casino opt-out option and to prevent their corrosive influence upon their community.

By mid-November, the Pennsylvania Family Council sent emails and mailed letters to virtually every municipality (more than 2,400) in the Commonwealth, with instructions, based on the newly-passed law, on how to keep any of the ten new “mini casinos” from opening within their borders.  As of the latest count, more than 40% of the jurisdictions have opted-out.

According to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, as of January 9th, a total of 1,018 municipalities have notified them that a resolution was passed to keep a new casino from entering their community.

“Citizens across Pennsylvania recognize that gambling hurts their community,” said Michael Geer, President of the Pennsylvania Family Council. “It is a shame that our elected officials in Harrisburg couldn’t see this and instead rammed through the largest concoction of gambling expansion any state has ever passed,” added Geer.  “Thankfully, thousands of local officials across the state have taken steps to try and limit the fallout.”

What began as a six-page bill to set up a phone number to help compulsive gamblers turned into a nearly one-thousand-page bill rushed for passage in the state legislature that legalizes just about every gambling option possible. Pennsylvania has now legalized the “crack cocaine of gambling” – video gaming terminals – along with adding 10 new casino locations (PA is already the second highest commercial casino state in the nation) and making Pennsylvania the only state to legalize both casino and lottery games online.

The legislation also included special carve-outs, like granting the Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos an extended buffer zone for where another casino can be built.

The National Council for Problem Gambling reports that 2% – 3% of the US population has a gambling problem; which projects to at least 255,000 Pennsylvanians currently with a gambling problem. There are currently thousands of Pennsylvanians who voluntarily put themselves on the casino self-exclusion list to keep them away from casinos. This list has multiplied by more than 43 times since 2006.

“Pennsylvania is on course to becoming the nation’s most susceptible place for gambling addiction,” says Tom Shaheen, Vice President for Policy at Pennsylvania Family Council. “Providing families more ways and more places to gamble away their money is not in Pennsylvania’s best interest.”

This is not the first time our legislature has rushed to pass gambling expansion. At 3:00AM on the July 4th weekend in 2004, the legislature added hundreds of pages to a four-page bill that legalized casinos statewide. 

Under this new gambling law, municipalities had until December 31, 2017 to pass a resolution opting out of casino expansion.

“It’s great to see so many local leaders opting-out their municipality from casino expansion,” added Shaheen. “But our communities and our families should never have been put in this position in the first place.”