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Pennsylvania Senate OKs internet play for casinos, lottery

Written by Marc Levy, The Associated Press | May 24, 2017 2:10 PM
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(Harrisburg) -- Legislation to allow an expansion of casino-style gambling and lottery play to the internet in Pennsylvania passed the state Senate on Wednesday, as lawmakers look for ways to heal the state's deficit-ridden finances by capturing new and younger gamblers.

The bill would make Pennsylvania the first state to allow both its casinos and state lottery to take their games to online audiences. It also would allow online gambling parlors in airports, regulate and tax online fantasy sports games and revive a requirement struck down by the courts last year that casinos pay millions of dollars a year to local governments.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled chamber 38-12 roughly 24 hours after the measure became public. The vote capped months of closed-door negotiations, and the bill had support from top Senate Democrats and Republicans.

However, the measure faces a thorny path in the House.

There, Republican majority leaders are seeking support for legislation to allow slot machine-style gambling in thousands of bars, truck stops and fraternal clubs. Such a provision is seen by proponents as the biggest money-maker for the state, but is expected to get pushback from casinos, which fear losing gambling dollars in the deal.

Governor Tom Wolf's office has not said whether he would support an even bigger expansion of gambling to bars, but noted the Senate bill's projections fall short of the revenue goal he has set for a gambling expansion.

Most casinos backed a launch to the internet. Still, they would have to pay $10 million for a license to operate a full range of games online, and internet play would be taxed at up to 54 percent, the same as slot machine receipts in their gambling halls.

Wolf has sought authorization from the Legislature to take lottery-style games to the internet to help fund programs for the elderly. The Pennsylvania Lottery is headed for its first annual drop in revenue since the recession, while Pennsylvania's over-60 population is projected to grow swiftly in the coming decade.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, who backed the measure, said capturing the attention of people who want to gamble on the internet is critical to sustaining the state's lottery fund.

"To not have those folks, we lose business along those lines, but more importantly, we lose an opportunity, an opportunity to have people who would be playing in that space," Costa said during brief comments on the Senate floor.

The Senate estimates the state would reap $110 million to $147 million next year, primarily from casinos paying for one-time online gambling licenses. Wolf has sought $250 million. For counties and municipalities that host casinos, the bill would require casinos to pay $10 million a year. The state Supreme Court invalidated the "local share assessment" provision last year, because it treated casinos differently, and scheduled the provision to expire this Friday.

Senator Robert Tomlinson, R-Bucks, who helped write Pennsylvania's original casino gambling law in 2004, opposes the measure. His district includes Pennsylvania's most successful casino, Parx Casino, and he warned that the bill would hurt the casino business by allowing people to gamble at home and on their cellphones.

He also said it represents "budgeting by addiction" and perpetuates a false narrative that Pennsylvania can fix its finances with more gambling.

"It's not going to raise the money to close the budget gap, not this year," Tomlinson said.

Online casino gambling is legal in just three states: Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey. Four states -- Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan -- allow lottery games to be played in cyberspace, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

An earlier story appears below.

(Harrisburg) -- The Pennsylvania Senate is advancing legislation to allow online casino-style gambling in the state as lawmakers look for ways to heal the state's deficit-ridden finances.

Senators voted 38-12 to approve the just-unveiled bill Wednesday. It would make Pennsylvania the first state to allow both its casinos and lottery to take games online in a quest for money from new and younger players. House approval is still required.

The Senate estimates the state would reap more than $100 million next year, primarily from casinos paying for one-time online gambling licenses.

It also would allow online gambling parlors in airports, and reinstate a requirement that casinos pay millions of dollars to local governments. The bill would require casinos to pay $10 million a year.

Courts invalidated the "local share assessment" provision last year.

An earlier story appears below. 

(Harrisburg) -- The Pennsylvania Senate is debating legislation to allow online casino-style gambling in the state as lawmakers look for ways to heal the state's deficit-ridden finances.

The just-unveiled bill debated Wednesday would make Pennsylvania the first state to allow both its casinos and lottery to take games online in a quest for money from new and younger players. House approval would still be required.

The Senate estimates the state would reap more than $100 million next year, primarily from casinos paying for one-time online gambling licenses.

It also would allow online gambling parlors in airports, and reinstate a requirement that casinos pay millions of dollars to local governments. The bill would require casinos to pay $10 million a year.

The state Supreme Court struck down the "local share assessment" provision last year because it assessed casinos differently.

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