PhillyDeals: Pennsylvania governors' pitch of vice as a road to prosperity has failed

Gov. Corbett , along with Gov. Rendell before him, has been reduced to promoting gambling or drinking as the way forward. AKIRA SUWA / Staff
Gov. Corbett , along with Gov. Rendell before him, has been reduced to promoting gambling or drinking as the way forward. AKIRA SUWA / Staff
Posted: March 28, 2013

More jobs! More money! So say the people backing Gov. Corbett's plans to turn the Pennsylvania Lottery and the State Store system over to private operators.

As I noted in this space in January, the lottery-sale plan - currently on hiatus - is designed so the promised jobs and revenue are added only if private managers persuade Pennsylvanians to bet more, through new games like keno (bingo, sort of) in new locations like bars and restaurants.

As the pro-privatization Commonwealth Foundation said in a report last week, State Store opponents promise that: "ending the state-run monopoly will create thousands of additional jobs across the state and unleash millions of dollars in new business investment. The plan allows beer distributors to expand their already safe and reliable businesses, creates hundreds of new wine and liquor outlets, and enables grocery stores to expand to sell wine and beer to meet the needs of consumers."

Got it? We will put more people to work if we unleash market forces to successfully persuade us to drink more at many new locations.

Gov. Rendell believed much the same, at least in regard to gambling. He also believed in highway privatization and more and costlier road and bridge tolls, ideas that have also been on hiatus, though they'll be back soon enough.

Once upon a time,

Republicans were the temperance and moderation and strict-personal-conduct party. It was the Democrats - Catholics and Jews who used wine on religious occasions, for goodness sake - who took a more permissive line.

No more. Protestant morality seems to no longer guide Pennsylvania Republicans; the Democrats are the party that wants to keep at least some vices under direct control of the state (and its unionized employees with health care and benefits), while Republicans want to turn the consumer economy to work promoting gambling, alcohol, and, they tell us, the common good.

Commonwealth's Nate Benefield has objected to my characterizations on Twitter. He notes, accurately, that the state-run lottery and liquor stores already encourage people to gamble and drink. And he challenged me, as a good libertarian would: Did I have any moral objections to drinking and gambling?

Drinking's all right, in moderation. But how many Pennsylvanians do you know who would be better if they drank more than they already do?

My objections to gambling are mathematical: The house always gets a cut. Over time, you lose. (Unless maybe you bet full time, preferably with other people's money. Like in the stock market.)

The political trend has made some readers wonder: What other vices are still waiting for state-licensed exploitation? Pot is making headway in New Jersey and out West. How about harder drugs? Prostitution?

No, my moral objections apply to the political climate in Pennsylvania. Here, governors like Corbett and Rendell, unable or unwilling to persuade wealthy citizens to help pay for public services, are reduced to promoting schemes like increased gambling or drinking as the best way forward, for the state treasury and private-sector employment.

Too bad that, despite all the new casino jobs, Pennsylvania's job growth and unemployment rates continue to trail the nation.


Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com, @PhillyJoeD.

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