State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Odds aren't good for lottery bill before New Year's

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Dec 9, 2013 11:31 PM

Photo by Craig Layne/witf

A recent, intense focus on legislation both to expand the Pennsylvania Lottery and to allow the governor to privatize its management is likely to be put on hold until after the New Year, the state Senate Majority Leader said Monday.

A proposal that hasn't yet seen the light of a committee meeting would expand Pennsylvania Lottery game offerings to include keno, a fast-paced drawing, and also allow Gov. Corbett's administration to outsource lottery management to a private company.

The plan was hatched in part to net more revenue for the commonwealth ahead of what everyone expects to be another tough budget year, and in part to enact a property tax freeze for seniors.

"I think the idea of expanding lottery games and giving the governor the ability to contract with private firms to provide managerial, marketing expertise is an idea that has broad support," Republican Senate Leader Dominic Pileggi said Monday afternoon after the GOP caucus met behind closed doors for a few hours to discuss the proposal.

"Some members would like additional time to work through some of the details of the proposal," said Pileggi. He acknowledged the concern of some who wonder if there are that many gambling dollars left to get in the commonwealth at this point.

"Have we reached a saturation point in the legalization of different forms of gaming in Pennsylvania?" Pileggi said. "And how do the different forms of gaming interact with each other? That's certainly a general sentiment that members have, but not to the point where there's broad opposition to the concept of allowing keno-style games."

Pileggi added chances are "slim" the legislation would pass in the Senate before the chamber gavels out for the year on Wednesday. Later, his policy director and spokesman said that was an "optimistic" forecast.

Senate Democrats aren't offering any votes from their side of the chamber. Minority Leader Jay Costa blasted the nascent plan Monday morning in a briefing with reporters.

The legislation would pave the way for the kind of lottery privatization envisioned by the Corbett administration. Earlier this year, the governor's office executed a contract to expand the Pennsylvania Lottery and outsource its management to British firm Camelot Global Services. The state attorney general rejected the contract on Valentine's Day, calling it unconstitutional. Camelot's bid is now set to expire at the end of the year.

The Senate GOP's argument for passing the legislation as early as possible is to get a head start on generating greater revenue for the commonwealth. Lawmakers are in a bit of a frenzy to tap additional funding sources before they get down to budgeting next spring. Last week, the Senate passed a fast-tracked resolution to have a legislative committee study gaming in the commonwealth - specifically, how it might be expanded. Before that, Senate lawmakers successfully spearheaded legislation to legalize small games of chance (raffles, drawings) in licensed bars and taverns (they have previously been allowed only in licensed private clubs).

Meanwhile, the governor's office continues to press for some way to privatize the management of the state lottery, after a contract with a British firm was rejected by the state attorney general earlier this year. The Post-Gazette has reported that the Corbett administration has struck a deal with the union representing the majority of lottery employees to protect roughly 170 jobs, thereby neutralizing the largest opponent of the governor's lottery privatization effort.

"That's something we don't have full documentation on," Pileggi said before returning to the Senate floor. "It's something members would like to see more detail about."

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