Pennsylvania House lawmakers are moving ahead Wednesday with an expansion of gambling that includes slots-like video gaming terminals in bars, an element that wasn't included a version passed by the Senate last month.
VGTs have proven controversial in the past, drawing opposition from casinos and other stakeholders. Similar legislation failed to make it to the governor's desk during last year's budget process.
"This is building upon the Senate proposal and will actually enhance revenue a little further," said House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County.
Reed said the House will continue to work with the Senate on the gambling expansion. While the Senate version was expected to bring in between $109 million and $147 million in new revenue, he said the House version could bring between $250 million and $300 million.
Of course, revenue estimates for such proposals have proven unreliable in the past, contributing to Pennsylvania's current budget deficit.
"We want the most conservative estimate possible," Reed said Wednesday. "We don't want to overestimate revenues and I know that was a request of the administration and the governor's office as well."
The key provisions in the latest House version of HB271 include:
- Regulating fantasy sports contests for players at least 18 years of age. Operators would pay 19 percent of their adjusted revenues on a quarterly basis.
- Online gaming, which comes with an age limit of 21, would come with a 16 percent tax on gross revenue paid by operators on a weekly basis. Operators would also have to pay a 3 percent local share assessment.
- Liquor establishments and truck stops could operate five or 10 slots-like video gaming terminals, respectively, with a statewide cap of 40,000. Operators would pay a 37.5 percent tax as well as a 4 percent local share assessment. Part of the revenue would go toward the Lottery Fund, fire and EMS grants and various other programs.
- Casinos would be allowed to offer sports better only in the event of a change to federal law with a tax rate of 16 percent and a 2 percent local share assessment.
- The Department of Revenue would be allowed to provide online sales of its existing Pennsylvania Lottery games, as well as instant lottery games, online games where the result is immediately known.
- Fixes the "local share" calculation previously thrown out by the state Supreme Court by charging most of the state's casinos a flat $10 million.
The latest version of the gambling expansion is expected to be debated, and possibly voted on, this evening. Any vote would take place after 8 p.m.
A spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf said he "is committed to continuing to work with all four caucuses to reach consensus on a gaming proposal."