When Bugsy Siegel and his cronies first gathered in the Nevada desert some 60 years ago, even they could not even have imagined the place of respect gambling would occupy in America by the 21st century. The "greatest generation" generally understood the dangers it posed to society, if gambling were to be left unregulated and unchecked. The casinos of Las Vegas, and a mere handful of state lotteries, were about all people of good character knew of the dangerous vice.

Today, we think of it as "gaming"--a much nicer and friendlier word--invoking images of recreation and wholesome family entertainment. But gambling in 2005 America is anything but fun and games. Once treated as a crime by law enforcement, gambling is now not only regulated by our government, but fully endorsed by it. Politicians and other leaders now view gaming revenues as, not just "found money," but as an essential source of revenue to pay schoolteachers and close budgetary gaps.

Sadly--no, outrageously--most of these decisions were made, as is so often the case in local and state-level politics, under cover of night, and through clandestine backroom negotiations, supervised only by the most insomniac of  C-SPAN viewers. But the implications of such shady deals are dire, and our only defense is knowledge.

As this multi-part series progresses, we'll discuss just how little you likely know about what may be in store for your community, where gambling is concerned...and who is conspiring to keep such information from you. You'll follow the incredible money trails and power that have placed casino-style "gaming" on the fast track in Pennsylvania. And you'll hear about one courageous man's great idea of how to slow, if not stop, the Commonwealth's seemingly inexorable march toward disaster. 

Coming Thursday: The Big Picture