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State-sponsored rackets: Glaring hypocrisy

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Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Pennsylvania's hypocrisy on gambling — keeping illegal barroom video poker that long has paid winners while operating a lottery and legalizing casinos — would be downright glaring under Gov. Tom Corbett's now-delayed lottery privatization deal with Camelot, the British firm that still hopes to offer keno in bars.

“Any video poker with payouts is unregulated and illegal in Pennsylvania,” says Eric Shirk, Gov. Corbett's deputy communications director, in the expected drone-like recitation defense of what is, by definition, nothing less than a state-sponsored rackets operation.

Yet many bars do pay winners. It's a wink-and-nod practice that occasional raids do little to deter (which, by the way, raises questions about selective enforcement).

Mr. Shirk says it's inaccurate to portray keno as a video poker alternative for bars. Yet a Camelot spokesman calls keno “a more convenient way for players to participate in social situations,” mainly in taverns and bars.

So, instead of legitimizing video poker payouts — and tavern owners' cut — Corbett would reserve legal barroom “action” for Camelot's keno. Oh, he'd also avoid $25 million in refunds that the state, under the 2004 casino legalization law, would owe each casino licensee if video poker payouts were legalized.

The continuing video poker ban is at odds with reality for tavern owners and patrons and with the state sanctioning so many other forms of gambling.

And if the Camelot deal eventually goes through and brings legal keno to bars, Pennsylvania's gambling hypocrisy will be more indefensible than ever.

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