State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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For gaming study, it'll be a tight squeeze

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Dec 4, 2013 6:23 PM

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

State lawmakers have ordered up a legislative study of gambling in the commonwealth to be completed just in time to consider expanding the industry as the budgeting process gets underway next year.

Lawmakers have watched state coffers warily as neighboring states have introduced and expanded gambling, causing greater regional competition for dollars and flattening revenues in Pennsylvania.

A move to study gambling within state lines is the first clear overture to expanding the industry, either by way of allowing more casinos or legalizing online gaming.

"The resolution came about as we continue to watch our gaming revenues go flat and, in some instances, decline month over month from last year," said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), who sponsored the resolution requesting the study.

"There's probably some very obvious answers as to why we're seeing that," Scarnati said to a Senate committee that approved his resolution Tuesday. "But what my resolution is asking for is really a look over the mountain - see what Pennsylvania maybe should be doing."

Scarnati's resolution asks the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to consider how online gaming might affect casino revenues and employment. It would be due by next May.

"They wanted it in time for the budget negotiations," said LBFC Executive Director Philip Durgin. That gives his committee about five months to finish it. Durgin said lawmakers usually allow "nine months or more" to submit a report.

The resolution passed the full Senate Wednesday. "Work starts this afternoon," Durgin said.

As staffers working on the gambling study resolution, those working for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board were posting the 1.3 percent decrease in revenues from slot machines in November this year as compared to November of last year, when there was one fewer operating casino.

Revenues from gambling are one place left to turn for money in a year the shows to be another tight one for budget drafters. Last month, the Legislature approved a move to expand small games of chance in bars and taverns to bring in additional money for the commonwealth.

Many lawmakers balked at the governor's move earlier this year to allow online gambling through the state lottery without legislative approval first. But online gaming is clearly on the table as lawmakers get ready to negotiate another difficult budget next year due to revenues coming in below estimated levels.

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