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Brother Karsh's Column for LetsGoPens.com

Wheel of Fortune

July 7, 2003

The reason this column has never met the idea of a new Igloo for the Penguins head on is ultimately pretty simple. It's because a new Igloo never makes it past the "Well, duh" test most American kids learn right around the third grade.

Will the Penguins benefit from a new Igloo? Will it keep them in town, raise profits, enhance the game experience for the fans, and allow the team to be more active in signing free agents and keeping top-tier talent?

Will a new multi-purpose Igloo also benefit the city not just in the short term with construction jobs, but in the long term as well?

Well, duh.

Of course, the issue is somehow not that simple for the people who are making the decisions so there's been a lot of hand-wringing and head scratching going on around town for a couple of years. Unfortunately, as each year slides subtly into the next with no new building plan in place, the Penguins get that much closer to extinction and with every self-serving sound-bite the Sports and Exhibition Authority or the honorable Mayor Murphy trots out whenever one of them deigns to address the issue, Mario Lemieux ends up looking more and more like a chump for saving the team in the first place.

Maybe that's why Penguin fans probably shouldn't have been at all surprised when the team recently threw its lot in with the slot machine crowd. Hey, when you're not getting the help you need from the usual suspects, you've got to get creative—and creative is just what the Penguins got.

There's probably some argument to be had about whether the Penguins ever honestly had another, viable plan for a new building before horseracing came thundering down the stretch and to the rescue, but at least now there's something on the table that would solve the problem.

Ah, if only the story could end there we could all live happily ever after.

But it wouldn't be a story about the Penguins if didn't involve solving one problem only to create a few more in the process, now would it?

If the anti-arena folk didn't have enough to complain about, now there is another reason to rally against a new home for Pittsburgh's favorite fowl (although 'rally' is mostly a symbolic term in this case since the anti-arena crowd seems far more content to simply write the occasional letter as opposed to actually getting out of their easy chair).

Nonetheless, the reason for concern is whether or not the otherwise utterly wholesome sport of hockey—you know, the one where a bunch of guys hopped up on Sudafed can be found bloodying each other to a pulp for good money—should be sullied by the likes of gambling.

Never mind the fact that slot machines are to gambling what McDonald's is to a balanced diet, for the self-appointed enforcers of America's collective moral rectitude, if it walks like a game of chance, it's gambling. (In all fairness to the aforementioned moral jackboots, noted ethical brownshirt Bill Bennett would have been asked to comment on this column were it not for a massive conflict of interest.)

In reality, slot machines are gambling's answer to competitive coin flipping, only they require less dexterity and feature worse odds. All you really need to know about slot machines is that Las Vegas can't put them in fast enough. If that doesn't tell you that there's a sucker born every minute, nothing will.

Still, at a time when the Penguins need all the support they can get, they instead find themselves in the unenviable position of playing moral relativist; pitching the idea that, under the circumstances, they've got no choice but to take this money if they can. That their truth is, this is the only way they survive.

Besides, the money would do far more for the Penguins (and in turn the city) than it would lining some politician's pockets—which is an excellent point. Not to mention that the state is going to have slots in some form somewhere, so the money might as well go to a local institution like the Penguins. The Penguins have at least some ability to have a direct, positive effect on the immediate community as opposed to a corporation that may or may not decide to reinvest in the area, or the state which could easily take the money to Harrisburg never to be seen again.

But that doesn't mean this debate is going to play better with the people who heretofore had no reason to argue with the moral standing of the Penguins' business associates. Nor will it help the Penguins' image much.

If only the scene involved orphans or kittens or something unquestionably lovable lending a helping hand to the Penguins instead of some smarmy stereotype who's got an old cigar between his lips and the Daily Racing Form tucked under his arm.

Yes, slot machines might be good for business, but there's substantial evidence that they're bad for pretty much everybody else. They don't create skilled labor positions and anytime you're selling the idea that someone might get rich for only a quarter (or, in the case of the lottery, a dollar) your target market is probably going to be made up of people who'd generally be far better served saving their money instead of closing their eyes and crossing their fingers.

Unfortunately, that's the way things are for the Penguins these days. There's a lot of wishing and hoping, and there's this sort of unspoken fantasy that one day soon everything's going to be all right because money won't be an issue any more.

In other words, maybe the Penguins and slot machines were made for each other from the start.

Of course, it's hard not to think that it would be nicer if Penguin fans could spend the summer discussing how the Lemieux era officially ended with the drafting the first franchise Penguin who will almost certainly never play a full season with Mario Lemieux. Even if fans could just kick around ways head man Ed Olczyk might succeed in his rookie campaign behind the bench—or dream about how the Penguins might bring in just one good free agent so that Mario's grand finale could end with one last scoring title (not that the Penguins will or should bring somebody in just for that reason, but it's always nice to dream).

But, no. Instead Penguin fans end up with two cherries and a lemon.

Honestly, only the Penguins could pull something like that off. Only the Penguins.

Brother Karsh appears weekly at LGP.com during the season and when he's not knee deep in a Pick Six at Santa Anita during the offseason. Come on, Number Nine, daddy needs a new pair of everything.

Back to Karsh's Column List


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