Public hearing on lottery, private manager likely - abc27 WHTM

Public hearing on lottery, private manager likely

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Don John of Londonderry Township, Dauphin County says he plays the lottery every single day, but perhaps not for long. He couldn't speak at the packed public hearing Monday at the Capitol, but he had plenty to say afterward.

"The governor's bringing a private company from another country to run the Pennsylvania Lottery, I am mad as hell. Can I say hell? I said it anyway."

Inside the hearing, the governor's men went first and made the case to do something to boost lottery proceeds that benefit seniors. By 2030, they said, 25% of Pennsylvanians will be over the age of 60, and current lottery projections won't keep pace. Camelot's guarantee of $34 billion over 20 years is just too good to pass up, they insist.

Senator Pat Vance (R-Cumberland) said she's bothered that there was only one bidder and wondered if it's a sweetheart deal for Camelot.  

"Yes, this is a sweetheart deal," said Peter Tartline of the Governor's Budget office, who negotiated the deal for the Corbett Administration. "It's a sweetheart deal for Pennsylvania seniors."

To reach projections, and to turn a profit, Camelot would be allowed to expand gaming including Keno games in bars and restaurants and online ticket sales. Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser insists the administration can expand gaming without lawmakers' consent. That question will be challenged legally and hasn't been definitively answered at the Capitol. 

"I don't want to turn every bar in this state into a casino," said Senator Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin). "And I don't want to turn every computer terminal in this state into a lottery terminal. I think it's a dangerous expansion of gambling."

And 175 union jobs are also an issue. Camelot's president promised to hire most of them.

"This is not a game of cost cutting," said Camelot president Alex Kovach at the hearing. "Our plan is not to go and cut costs or cut jobs. Our plan is to grow the top line and increase participation."

The union says it's gotten no guarantees of hiring and adds that if it could expand gaming, it too could increase payouts for seniors. Perhaps even make more money than Camelot's bid.

"So a takeover by a foreign private company isn't just illogical," said David Fillman, president of AFSCME 13. "It's a slap in the face to Pennsylvania workers."

Camelot is one of the biggest gaming companies in the world but considers its strength sales and marketing. Kovach testified that Pennsylvania doesn't market well enough, or excite players enough with its games. Only 30% of Pennsylvanians play every week. Camelot gets 50% a week in the United Kingdom.

So how do you boost the number of players by 20 percent?

"We're all about participation rates," said Kovach. "We're looking for a lot of people playing a little as opposed to a small number of people playing a lot."

Don John is unconvinced, and if he's a barometer, Camelot still has some marketing to do.

"If it gets taken over by a foreign company, I will never, ever spend another penny on the Pennsylvania lottery. You can take that to the bank."

Senators were also upset at the late Friday afternoon announcement that the Administration was moving ahead with the Camelot deal, just days before Monday's public hearing. Why not wait, many wondered. 

"If this was done under Rendell's administration, the GOP would be jumping up and down like Rumplestiltskin," said Senator John Wozniak (D-Cambria).  "I just want to make that point. I mean, the Republicans would be going nuts."

The attorney general must sign off on the deal. Kathleen Kane, the first Democrat elected to that post, will be sworn in Tuesday afternoon.

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