The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is set to vote Wednesday night on legislation to expand casino-style gambling to the internet, airports, bars and elsewhere. The bill also addresses casino host fees important to Erie County and other communities in the state with casinos.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed said the coming vote is an important step before budget negotiations heat up this month.
It’s not clear whether it’ll have support from senators or Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
Republicans hope to reap hundreds of millions of dollars from taxes and license fees, and say the gambling revenue is necessary to prop up Pennsylvania’s deficit-riddled finances.
It would allow licensed casinos to bring gambling to the internet, airports and satellite locations around Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, bars and other locations with a liquor license could operate slot machine-style video games.
A similar bill failed last summer in the House.
The new legislation, HB 271, passed the state Senate in recent weeks and was amended in the House’s Rules Committee on Wednesday.
The committee added language to legalize video gaming terminals which local lawmakers say they oppose at this point.
“The revenue projections are uncertain,” said state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, of Millcreek Township, D-3rd Dist. “It harms casinos, risking job loss in communities across Pennsylvania, and it will take revenue away from the lottery.”
State Rep. Pat Harkins, of Erie, D-1st Dist., voted in favor of the bill in committee to spark debate by the full House. He will vote against the bill unless the video gaming terminal provisions are removed.
Harkins said he did not think the terminals are popular enough in the House to pass the bill.
“There is going to be a need to have the VGTs removed from any bill going forward,” he said.
The bill also includes language that outlines fees casinos must pay to the counties and municipalities where they are located.
Erie County has come to rely on roughly $11 million each year from Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Summit Township. The funds help balance budgets and are used to invest in economic development.
But the state Supreme Court ruled last year that the host fee formula in Pennsylvania’s original gambling law from 2004 was unconstitutional.
House Bill 271 addresses the issue and largely preserves Erie County’s share.
Bizzarro said that regardless of the outcome of Wednesday’s vote, the “local share will be fine.”