State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Lawmakers launch more gaming expansion plans, but still no consensus

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 29, 2017 2:01 AM
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Wolf left space for $150 million in gaming revenue in his recent budget plan. A $100 million space was never filled in the current operating budget. (Photo by AP)

(Harrisburg) -- As they search for revenues to patch budget holes and ease a multi-billion structural deficit, state lawmakers have turned time and again to the gambling industry for some cash.

The commonwealth's current budget and Governor Tom Wolf's proposed spending plan both assume significant revenue from gaming expansions that haven't happened yet.

So now, members are floating several different plans to see if anything can build consensus. They remain largely divided between legalizing online gambling, video poker, or a number of other platforms.

The latest push aims to legalize video gambling terminals in bars.

Democratic Senator Lisa Boscola, of Lehigh County, is a co-sponsor on a Senate plan, and said it would merely tap into an industry that's existed underground for decades.

"In my community for instance, in the Lehigh Valley, I could go in so many different clubs and they're operating [gambling terminals] in basements and broom closets," she said. "It's activity that's already happening, and we need to legalize it and tax it."

But 11 of the 12 casinos in the commonwealth oppose video gaming because they think the terminals will steal their business. They--and the lawmakers allied with them--are more likely to support online gaming, which Boscola has strongly opposed.

She admits, it's a tall order to get any one plan passed.

"Some lawmakers say they're not voting for any gaming bill unless there's video poker. Others are saying, I'm not voting for any gaming bill unless there's internet gaming," she said. "How do you get there when everyone has a different idea of what they want in their community?"

If any plan does get widespread support, it'll be folded into a legal fix on local tax assessments on casinos.

Published in News, State House Sound Bites

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