Bill Kearney hates gambling and the destruction he says it brings to families.
So it's a little strange that the recovering self-described "degenerate gambler" was glad when the state gaming board finished accepting applications for the state's five proposed stand-alone casinos.
"I'm glad because I knew they were coming all along," he explains. "People are losing that last little bit of denial that maybe they could stop these things with petitions and protests. You can't win the war by throwing stones at the beast. You have to go right up to it, hit it in the balls and when he bends over, go right for his throat."
As developers fight for casino licenses this year, activists too are gearing up for battle. Some want to stop casinos from entering their communities. Others, like Kearney, plan to fight a battle they say actually has a chance of succeeding.
Kearney hopes the state legislature will enact some of the safeguards recommended by Pittsburgh's Gaming Task Force, including sending monthly statements of the amounts gambled to patrons, and disallowing free alcohol service. He says stopping casinos from operating without regard to possible consequences for customers has to be focus of activists' energies this year.
Two communities outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia -- chosen from among Lancaster, Allentown, Gettysburg, Bethlehem, the Poconos and the Lehigh Valley -- will get the state's remaining two stand-alone casino licenses. Kearney says fighting to keep casino gambling out of any of these areas is almost selfish. "If the casino doesn't go in Gettysburg, it will go into a community 20 minutes or an hour away," he says. "It's still going to affect your residents."
Bruce Barron, president of Pittsburgh-based No Dice Pa., says his group will soon turn its attentions to the two casinos outside of Pittsburgh. This year is the perfect time, he adds, to remind voters who is responsible for bringing gambling to Pennsylvania.
"A lot of people were and still are opposed to this," he says. "We will be using every opportunity to remind Pennsylvanians that the slots law was passed in the same fashion as the pay-raise law, with the same overnight sleight-of-hand."
Barron agrees with Kearney that it is vital to impose safeguards for gamblers, as well as to educate people about gambling's dangers.
"With the proliferation of gambling abuses, including Internet gambling, we think society has reached a tipping point," Barron says. "We have to do whatever we can to help our society restore its sanity and recover from the onslaught [of things] that glamorize gambling."