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Opponents to lottery privatization sue Governor Corbett - abc27 WHTM

Opponents to lottery privatization sue Governor Corbett

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

"It's about the money, stupid," said state Representative Michael O'Brien (D-Philadelphia) with a twinkle in his eye. "Last year, the Pennsylvania Lottery generated $3.4 billion. It's one of the most effective and efficient lottery systems in the world."

O'Brien is one of several Democratic lawmakers suing Governor Corbett in Commonwealth Court to stop him from privatizing the lottery without legislative consent.

"The governor has no authority to change the lottery statute," O'Brien insists. "The governor has no authority to accept the money, and the governor has no authority to spend the money that he gets."

Corbett respectfully disagrees. On Tuesday he said he's still reviewing a bid by British lottery firm Camelot, which would guarantee the state an annual payout for 20 years. It would then run the lottery as it sees fit and keep the extra profits. Around 170 union workers would likely lose their jobs, so the union is also part of the lawsuit.

"We're trying to stop it altogether," said David Fillman, president of AFSCME Local 13 which represents the lottery workers. "We think minimally it should be something the legislature takes a look at. Seniors should be concerned because somehow money could be skimmed off their programs."

Camelot would create additional online games or Keno to increase revenue. That's an expansion of gaming that Democrats insist requires legislative approval. Some Republicans disagree.

"Governor Rendell did it by adding Powerball," said Rep. Seth Grove (R-York County). "So if they wanted to make that argument, why didn't they make it when a Democrat was in control?"

Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), like O'Brien, says it's about the money. "They're making $50 million a year out of the deal. That's money that could be going back into the Lottery fund. It makes absolutely no sense."

Many lawmakers, even Republicans, say with just one bidder (Camelot), the lottery deal looks suspicious. They also complain it was done in backrooms. Governor Corbett forcefully rejects that notion.  "Some members of my own party have probably forgotten there was a hearing in the House on this."

A decision is expected soon, since the deal has a December 31 deadline. That rankles Senator John Wozniak (D-Cambria), who says the deal heated up after the legislature left Harrisburg and, if the deadline holds, will be completed before the legislature returns. 

Wozniak, one of the Democrats suing Corbett, played Christmas carols on his saxophone in the Capitol Tuesday. He said the Lottery privatization plan just doesn't sound good.

"If this is so lucrative for the private sector, if it's so lucrative for Pennsylvania, there's not gonna be an artificial deadline of Dec. 31 and there's plenty of time to discuss this."

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