The casino expansion bill that anxiously awaited review by lawmakers finally received approval on the PA Senate floor. It will be the first item on the House floor Thursday morning.
What this means
According to US News, this plan would expand gambling in the state to include:
- Truck stops
- Online portals
- Satellite casino sites
Pennsylvania, the second-largest commercial casino state in the country, could increase the slot machine and table game numbers around the state in these various entities.
The PA Senate publicized the 470-page bill on Wednesday evening, and passed it almost within the hour. The final tally came in at 31-19. PennLive reported that 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats in the Senate voted in support of the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said this package, along with the tax and borrowing package, could finish off this year’s spending and next year’s. The state government also tapped into $500 million from off-budget funds, according to Lancaster Online.
“This should bring closure to the budget,” Corman said.
What it could do for PA
The potential wins
- More than $200 million a year in license fees and taxes on gambling losses
- PA would be the first state to allow both casino and lottery games online
- Casinos pay $10 million annually to host communities
- A first: PA would allow commercial gambling outside the 12 currently permitted casinos and racetracks
- PA already raked in $1.4 billion in taxes from the gambling industry this past year
- The mini-casinos could host between 300 and 750 slot machines and 30 table games
- Truck stops get up to five video gaming terminals (VGTs)
The potential losses
- The proposed 25-mile radius distance from existing casinos exposes the primary market and may just alter current revenue, argues Penn National Gaming Inc. of Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course.
- Penn National threatened suit if the bill becomes law, due to its “punitive” nature
- Local controls may prevent widespread change for PA, according to Corman
- Bars are not included
In an effort to pacify the House, the Senate allowed the widely-debated VGTs in truck stops only.
Sen. Jay Costa, Democratic floor leader, had this to say to PennLive:
“There’s no question that that was added to bring consensus between the Senate and the House.”
The House originally pushed the VGTs through in their gambling expansion plan, allowing for lower tax rates and a wider range of online gaming. The Senate, on the other hand, passed a more conservative plan with higher tax rates on online gambling.
Budget issues may still be on the horizon
Despite these wins and losses, some Republicans, previously in favor of the new bill, now see it as overwhelming.
“If you pass this bill, you will see an explosion of gambling in Pennsylvania like you’ve never seen before,” said House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Scott Petri to Lancaster Online.
Gov. Tom Wolf has yet to come out on either side. He vaguely stated that he will review the bills before him. Others on his desk include borrowing against future revenues, education code, and over $600 million in aid to universities.
The budget’s issues began with a $2.2 billion hole. Lawmakers have attempted to fill this shortfall since they passed the $32 billion budget that began July 1.
Keeping the budget locked up in this standoff lost the state its credit rating. Now, after downgrading it, the state adds $50 million to borrowing costs per year.
Even so, the fact that a gambling expansion plan remains on the list of items for consideration remains big news.