One year and $3.4 million in consultant fees later, Gov. Tom Corbett’s comatose lottery privatization plan was taken off life support on Monday.
The recalcitrant governor maintains that a resurrection is possible in the future, though that likely depends on Mr. Corbett’s own political future.
The privatized lottery was a keystone of Corbett’s agenda, weighted heavily by his almost wistful belief that there is virtually nothing in government that couldn’t better be handled by private enterprise.
Of the two major gambits for privatization – alcohol sales and the lottery – the latter was the most vulnerable both politically and legally. Over the course of that year, the state Attorney General declared the private lottery deal contrary to both the state constitution and existing statute. Corbett’s office, apparently accepting that analysis, tried but failed to get the legislature to alter the law to permit the deal. That legislative failure was despite both houses of the General Assembly controlled by the governor’s own party.
Then there was the troubling circumstance that the British firm Camelot Group was the only bidder on the lucrative Pennsylvania Lottery, perhaps the nation’s richest with more than $3.7 billion in sales last year. Democrats were suspicious and very vocal.
We were dubious about the governor’s and Camelot’s promise that the private management of the lottery could do substantially better than the more than $1 billion the state-run games provided to senior citizens programs last year. The idea was Camelot would expand gaming on-line and add more sucker bets like keno.
However, also last year, the legislature, with the blessing of the governor, broadly expanded small games of chance to bars, a significant competitor for what must surely be a finite amount of available gambling money.
But, what troubles us now is that $3.4 million. Gov. Corbett may have seen that as an investment. If so, it was a poor one.