Our opinion: Harrisburg’s addiction

Recovering gambling addicts often say about their addiction that they were looking for that next win, having experienced the thrill in the past and knowing that the next one is just one handle-pull, one blackjack hand away.

They will also tell you about gambling creep, where some success at slots sent them to the tables, where some success at the tables sent them to the track…and so forth.

It’s true, not everyone who gambles is addicted, just as not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic. It is only those who once they start can’t stop.

So it is with Pennsylvania government, which is about to take another step down the road in its gambling addiction.

This week, Pennsylvania Senate Republicans fast-tracked a bill that extends small games of chance to taverns. Taverns would be able to obtain licenses to hold pull-tabs, daily drawings and raffles and keep a bit less than half the gross profits. The rest would go to the state, an estimated $150 million Gov. Corbett wants to go to the Pennsylvania Lottery to offset any losses it experiences as a result of the change.

Essentially, the taverns would be able to run most, if not all, of the same games currently allowed in veterans’ and fraternal clubs.

It’s easy money for the state, which would assume very little if any overhead and collect millions from willing depositors.

Easy money: it just has that irrefutable allure for government and for gamblers, particularly those who are addicted to it.

In the beginning there was the lottery, one game, once a week. And government saw that it was good. So government created daily drawings. And government saw that it was good. And daily games begat scratch-offs, and scratch-offs begat more daily games. And government saw they were good. Then there were slots parlors, and slots parlors begat full-service casinos with table games.

After all, the revenue government receives from gambling in Pennsylvania funds programs for senior citizens, and everyone sees that as good.

But, is there a point of diminishing returns for government-sanctioned gambling? The governor’s worry that this latest expansion could cut into profits from the lottery seems to indicate that we may be nearing the point where not even a steady supply of gambling addicts can continue to adequately feed a steadily growing number of conduits for bad bets.

And, what of the veterans’ groups, who have been relying on their monopoly on small games of chance? Will they be allowed to bolster their gaming presence, say, with video poker or even slots, in order to offset what they might lose to their new competitors?

Gambling creep: like the allure of easy money, it’s hard to stop, even if it hits the ceiling of its potential for profit.