Corbett Needs to Keep Hands Off Lottery

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BY JOE SHAHEELI/ Most everybody in Pennsylvania knows the lottery is on the up and up …. especially since the debacle when the all the ping pong balls were lacquered except the number six … which brought up that number three times in succession, so the hit number that sad evening was 666.

Besides being the numeral name for the Devil, it proved to be bad luck for the Lottery administrators at the time.  Since then, after an exorcism of sorts, the Lottery took on new life, with successive administrators moving successfully to keep it growing.

Dedicated to seniors’ benefits, it is today the sixth-largest lottery in the nation. Benefiting from the income flow are senior benefits such as various programs for the elderly, rent and property-tax rebates, prescription-drug assistance, senior centers, and long-term care services, as well as free SEPTA transportation.

The drive to increase revenue has eliminated many exceptions as to who can retail lottery tickets. As a result, ticket outlets can literally be found almost door to door in some areas.

With competition coming from other forms of gaming such as the casinos and the drive to allow gambling enterprises in bars and other places, the Lottery has managed to hold its own.

But now Gov. Tom Corbett thinks it time to privatize the Lottery. So he’s searching out for bidders with the aid of an investment banking firm, Greenhill & Co., of Chicago, and the law firm DLA Piper LLP which has former Gov. Ed Rendell as a senior adviser.

Long-time employees feel this could end the four-decade growth of the Pennsylvania Lottery and the dependency of the senior population on a steady income stream.

Maybe Corbett feels challenged by the fact under Rendell sales in eight years climbing from $2.1 billion to $3.2 billion annually and have shown lesser growth under his administration.

In any event, most Pennsylvanians won’t see a change to private control of the Lottery as a change for the better. Those most concerned see the concept of private management a disaster, pointing to the state of Illinois where it happened, is in place, and which has seen 85 Lottery winners told there were “not sufficient funds” to award them their winnings.

The private management company in Illinois has removed small businesses from their retail network by now selling tickets on its Lottery website. This has reduced point of sale tickets immeasurably.

There is no valid excuse to place the Pennsylvania Lottery’s destiny in private hands, since its operating expense is only 2.3%, while 61% of Lottery dollars have gone to prizes when only 40% is required by state law. Its yearly performances have made the Pennsylvania Lottery a model for lotteries in other states.

Corbett needs to justify his initiative to the general or face an irate public in subsequent state elections as opposition party Senators and Representatives rally their senior populace against his move possibly jeopardizing their growing nest egg.

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