Free Drinks at Casinos - Monday 27th of November 2006

It stands to reason: If youre feeling no pain while standing in front of a slot machine, youll be less likely to sweat the small stuff.

Like whether youre gambling away the rent money.

No wonder casinos across the land have sought permission from authorities to hand out free drinks.

Pennsylvania lawmakers just last week bent to those wishes, giving late-night approval to a policy matter that should have been the subject of extensive public debate.

Both House and Senate agreed to allow slot-machine casinos to serve gamblers unlimited free drinks from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week. This bill is a veto waiting to happen.

The bill would allow servers to circulate among the one-armed bandits, plying gamblers with the fruit of the vine and such.

The argument in favor of this will sound familiar to any parent of a teenager: Gee whiz, Mom and Dad, everybodys doing it.

No self-respecting parent would fall for that. Why are legislators so taken with the notion that, just because other communities have swallowed a free-drinks policy, they must, too?

With only one casino open - at the Pocono Downs racetrack - its far too early to conclude that Pennsylvanias gambling business couldnt compete with more responsible liquor rules.

Hey, lighten up, you say? Whats wrong with lubricated revelers?

Consider the double-barreled threat of a free-drinks rule at the states 14 new casinos at racetracks, resorts and in cities. First, all that boozing will contribute to problem gambling. Sure, the state requires that millions of dollars be set aside to deal with gambling addictions. But why add to the risks by getting the patrons liquored up?

Second, these slots parlors, for the most part, will be commuter casinos.

Millions of people are going to drive to them. When theyre done gambling, they wont just stumble up to a hotel room. Theyll drive home. Citizens of nearby neighborhoods might like to get home themselves without being slammed into by a drunk angry about having been taken to the cleaners by an army of one-armed bandits.

Lawmakers say: Not to worry; existing liquor laws ban serving drinks to someone obviously inebriated.

Sure, explain that to everyone whos been injured or lost a loved one in a crash caused by a drunken driver.

Gov. Rendell should veto the free-drinks law, and force lawmakers to air the issue thoroughly. What are the real competitive concerns? Can the state require casinos to provide free cabs for drinking patrons upon request? Or to help with funding for drunken-driver enforcement?

Its too soon to launch happy hour at Pennsylvanias casinos

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