LAW ENFORCEMENT MUST BE A PRIORITY AS STATE’S SLOTS PARLORS BECOME REALITY

When Pennsylvania’s 14 slot machine parlors eventually open, no issue is going to be more important to the citizens of this state than law enforcement. The nature of gambling casinos (which these will be) is that they attract suckers, fun-seekers and, unfortunately, people with crime on their minds. The first two groups must be tolerated. As for the third group, the state must spare no effort to keep them out — or at least under surveillance.

Pennsylvania will attempt to do this in several ways, including: background checks of license applicants, investors and employees; a ”24/7” presence in the slots parlors to supervise financial practices and accounting; and with more routine law enforcement, paying attention to offenses ranging from drug sales to muggings in the parking lots. The Pennsylvania State Police will have prime responsibility for most of this, with county district attorneys and local police playing roles, as well.

State Police Commissioner Col. Jeffrey B. Miller began planning how his department would meet its responsibilities regarding slot machines last year, in anticipation of their eventual approval. Now, new officers are being hired, building on expertise already in-house in the areas of white-collar crime and organized crime, for instance.

Gov. Ed Rendell has estimated that the cost of new state police work will be about $23 million. (Another $5 million will be available to local law enforcement, and the state will reimburse local district attorneys for their slots-related costs.)

It’s hard to judge — at this early stage, in a state that has not had this type of legal gambling before — whether these investments are sufficient. The money to do investigations and enforce laws will come from the state’s share of gambling revenue, so we expect that adjustments will be made later, if needed (but not losing sight of the original goals of legalizing slot machines).

We think the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association and Gov. Rendell also need to resolve their dispute over whether the department is sufficiently staffed. The troopers’ union says Gov. Rendell reneged on the release of $4 million to add 90 troopers, money the Legislature approved earlier this month.

This doesn’t directly relate to law enforcement at the slots parlors, but as the state police gear up for new gaming responsibilities, overall staffing could be a challenge.

Finally, we think the composition of the Gaming Control Board is an issue. Three of seven members will be appointed by the governor and four by bipartisan legislative leaders. The Legislature also created three ex-officio (non-voting) members; the secretaries of revenue and agriculture and the state treasurer. It declined, however, to put the attorney general at the table. Attorney General Jerry Pappert thinks that’s a mistake, and so do we.

Some in the Legislature argue that it is a conflict of interest to have a prosecutor be part of a regulatory body. We see it differently. The attorney general is independently elected, separate from the administrators who serve at the pleasure of the governor.

It is far more important — for the sake of law enforcement — to have the state’s independent top prosecutor be represented every step of the way.