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Start over on lottery deal

| Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
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HARRISBURG

Dear Gov. Tom Corbett:

Give up the Camelot deal.

Your pending contract with the British firm expires near the end of this month after eight extensions. It's come to be associated with “lottery privatization” even though what you actually proposed was “privatizing lottery management,” since the lottery would be kept in state hands. It might have been a great deal. But it's come to be associated with failure and it seemed there was an effort to ram it through late last year and blow it by the Legislature.

Start fresh in 2014.

The idea may be a valid one and maybe even doable, now that a key union has agreed to the concept since a majority of unionized state lottery jobs would be retained.

But the Camelot deal carries a lot of baggage — big consultant fees. They total $4.6 million, or more than 11 percent of the lottery's budget, according to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. Those fees are a loss if the Camelot deal falls through, but sometimes, you need to cut your losses.

There's also Attorney General Kathleen Kane's rejection of the plan, in part because the Legislature hadn't approved keno, a fast-paced lottery-style electronic game. Keno is at the heart of the deal to make millions of dollars more for senior programs as more and more Pennsylvania baby boomers reach “elderly” status.

It's largely accepted that governors can run state agencies as they see fit, as long as actions are legal. But with something as controversial as keno, it would be prudent to clarify the law and leave no doubt.

Virtually every state agency “privatizes” or contracts out work with builders, lawyers, management consultants.

Camelot is a very experienced company, given its work running the United Kingdom's lottery. The record also suggests Pennsylvania Lottery staff has continued to improve sales and profits.

OK, so start over. Get approval first for keno. Many people don't even know what it is. Public hearings are a must. If the groundswell of public opinion is against it, given the recent expansion of gambling — small games of chance — to bars and taverns, then drop it.

Or open it up for new bids. There needs to be an independent analysis of those proposals versus lottery staff running keno games (minus the consulting fees). Camelot could still get the contract. In fact, it probably would, given its more than yearlong association with the Pennsylvania Lottery as a prospective manager.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, said there's “broad support” in the Senate GOP Caucus to have an experienced private company manage the lottery and to legalize keno games. The Senate used good sense to back off an attempt last week to ram a deal through for keno. Some senators insisted on the need for vetting.

Governor, you may feel you've waited a whole year as it is, and the public debate has been underway for months. But there is a legislative process and it would be wise to start there.

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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