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Gambling money for education: 80% of Pa. school boards say no

HARRISBURG, Pa. (BP)–Nearly 80 percent of Pennsylvania school districts have rejected a plan to use gambling revenues to fund education.

The plan, known as Act 72, calls for using revenues from as many as 61,000 slot machines — the most in any state east of Nevada — to reduce local property taxes by an average of $330 per homeowner. But in order to take effect, Act 72 had to be accepted by local school districts by May 30.

Many school boards rejected the plan because of a provision requiring voter approval in order to increase property taxes above the rate of inflation, The New York Times reported. Some also objected to the plan’s stipulation requiring participating districts to increase local income taxes by one-tenth of a percent.

A limited percentage of school boards rejected the plan on moral grounds, Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, reported.

“Some school boards specifically objected because they said it was gambling money,” she told Baptist Press. “But it was just a small percentage. By and large … school boards have said, ‘We’re doing this for the taxpayers.'”

One school board rejecting the plan on moral grounds was the Annville-Cleona School Board, located east of Harrisburg, which said the use of gambling-generated funds sends an improper message to students, according to the Harrisburg-based Patriot-News.

Board member Larry Patches referred to the legislation as “smoke and mirrors” and said it is immoral for students to receive education funded by gambling.

“It’s a strange mix, mixing gambling with education,” the board’s president, Dennis Bomberger, said.

Gov. Edward Rendell, a Democrat who promoted Act 72 as one of his signature initiatives, lamented the school boards’ decisions, saying that dividing the projected $1 billion among only one-fifth of the state’s school districts would be inequitable.

“Obviously I’m disappointed,” Rendell said, according to The New York Times. “We have to look for another vehicle to give Pennsylvanians property-tax relief. It would be inequitable to allow people in just one-fifth of our districts to get property tax relief.”

James H. Broussard, chairman of Citizens Against Higher Taxes, told The Times that many conservative groups refused to lobby for Act 72, even though they supported its provisions to reduce taxes, because they did not want to promote gambling.

In other gambling news across the nation:

— Multiple states are considering selling lottery tickets on the Internet, according to USA Today.

Online lottery sales initially would be limited to state residents. But Internet lottery sales could spread across state lines if the practice becomes popular, advocates of the idea say.

“I’ve said for 10 years that Internet lottery sales are just around the corner, and I may finally be proved right,” said Charles Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association, which runs the Powerball lottery.

Several states, including Georgia, New Hampshire and Illinois, have either enacted or are considering online lottery sales, USA Today reported in April. Forty states and Washington, D.C., have lotteries. Oklahoma will start a lottery in October and a push for a North Carolina lottery is continuing.

Opponents of Internet lottery sales say the practice will take increasing advantage of the poor, who spend a greater portion of their income on the lottery than do more affluent citizens. Some have also charged that online sales would make it easier for teens to buy lottery tickets.

“My biggest concern is that teens could get lottery tickets and start gambling online,” Guy Clark, chairman of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, told USA Today.

— Several Native American tribes in remote areas are attempting to acquire land near cities in order to construct lucrative casinos.

The practice, known as off-reservation gambling, involves tribes offering to give up ancestral claims to land in exchange for permission to build casinos in populated areas, according to The New York Times.

Currently efforts are underway by several small bands of Indians in California to build casinos in three cities on San Francisco Bay. Tribes in Oklahoma are seeking to build a casino in Denver, while tribes in Oklahoma and Wisconsin are eyeing the Caskill Mountains of New York, The Times reported in April.

Advocates of off-reservation gambling say the practice will bring much-needed income to struggling tribes. But opponents argue that new Indian casinos could have negative social and economic consequences.

Revenues for tribal casinos reached $18.5 billion in 2004, more than twice the revenue of all the casinos in Nevada. According to the National Indian Gaming Association, 411 tribes currently operate casinos employing 553,000 people.

— As numerous states look to gambling revenue for a critical stream of income, some policy makers are suggesting that governments are becoming reliant on gambling money to an unhealthy extent.

In Rhode Island, South Dakota, Louisiana and most parts of Nevada, taxes from gambling make up more than 10 percent of overall revenues, according to The New York Times. Delaware, West Virginia, Indiana, Iowa and Mississippi have gambling revenues approaching 10 percent, The Times noted in late March.

“We’re drunk on gambling revenue,” said Delaware state Rep. Wayne A. Smith. “Gambling revenues are like free money.”

David Knudson, a state senator in South Dakota, told The Times that “the biggest addict [of gambling] turns out to be the state government that becomes dependent on it.”

In Rhode Island gambling revenue has surpassed the corporate income tax to become the state’s third-largest source of income, allowing state officials to avoid raising the state income tax.

In Iowa, several steps to expand gambling were taken, including table games at racetracks, to help counter a $140 million budget deficit.