Activists ask Rendell to veto bill allowing free drinks at casinos - Tuesday 28th of November 2006

Critics of the General Assembly, who raised a big ruckus last year in opposing a legislative pay raise, are now calling on Gov. Ed Rendell to veto a measure permitting unlimited free drinks to be served at slot machine casinos.

The protestors include Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital, Kathleen Daugherty of Democracy Rising PA, Russ Diamond of PA Clean Sweep and Harrisburg "pink pig" activist Gene Stilp.

They wrote to Mr. Rendell yesterday urging a veto of the free liquor legislation, which was passed late last Tuesday night as legislators were hurrying to end the 2005-06 session and get home.

Ms. Daugherty said the governor, who before the Nov. 7 election talked about reforming the legislative process, should "be more true to the constitution now than those who would profit from the muted thinking of intoxicated gamblers." She said there was "little or no public comment" on the bill before it was approved.

The self-styled reformers criticized the late-night, last-minute method used to adopt the free drinks legislation. It was added as an amendment to a bill making some changes in the state liquor code and didnt receive three separate days of hearings in the House and Senate, as critics said is required by the state constitution.

Mr. Epstein claimed that legislators "produced a holiday turkey and left us with the bill. They havent changed the core behaviors that produce rotten legislation."

He urged the governor to talk to groups representing state tavern and restaurant owners, some of whom think the bill provides an unfair advantage to casinos.

Mr. Epstein said the opinions of Mothers Against Drunk Driving should also be sought because the free liquor at casinos could increase drunk driving.

The bill allows Pennsylvania casinos to make free liquor available to gamblers from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week. Legislators who voted for it said its a necessary way to let state casinos compete with those in Atlantic City, N.J., and at New York and Delaware racetracks. Free liquor at those casinos is available to gamblers 24 hours a day, every day, legislators said.

Pennsylvanias first racetrack/casino, Mohegan Sun, opened this month at Pocono Downs near Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, with others to open next month and in January and February.

Mr. Rendell has until Saturday to decide whether to veto the bill. Generally, he has been supportive of bringing slots casinos to Pennsylvania as a way to raise, in his estimate, $1 billion a year to be used to reduce property taxes.

Mr. Rendell hadnt seen the critics letter yesterday, said press secretary Kate Philips, "but he will take it into consideration, as he would any public input on a bill."

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