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Gambling hypocrisy: End this charade

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Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

By licensing casinos, Pennsylvania makes legal in them a form of gambling that's outlawed in bars, restaurants and private clubs — where municipalities charge hundreds of dollars annually to register video poker machines, electronic slots and other devices. It's blatant government hypocrisy at both the state and local levels that needs to end.

The machines that municipalities register almost always are marked “for amusement only” — pro forma nods toward the illegality of payouts to winning players and such modifications as “knock-off” switches that erase game credits. Matching those nods are the winks from local officials who cynically pretend it's all on the up-and-up while reaping registration revenue — and are quick to pontificate when law enforcers raid such machines in their communities. Witness Thursday's big gambling raid in McKeesport.

Meanwhile, law enforcers and the casino industry warn that these machines are rigged so the house always wins in the end — as if that's not just as true of casino gambling. And struggling small businesses risk fines and loss of liquor licenses for daring to seek a tiny piece of this gambling action, worth $13 billion-plus since Pennsylvania's first legal casino opened in 2007.

It's time to do away with all the pretenses surrounding this issue. Legalize video poker and slots for restaurants, bars and private clubs and let Pennsylvania's government-sanctioned casinos compete — without legally enforced hypocrisy that ensures only their houses ultimately win.

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