Pa Slot Machine – In this Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015 photo, a man plays a video lottery terminal at Saratoga Casino and Raceway in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. A new plan under consideration in Pennsylvania would allow bars, taverns and other liquor licenses to host five of the machines. (AP Photo/Mike Grohl) HAR
Another proposal that could bring casino-style gambling to small-town Pennsylvania was given a test flight in the Senate’s majority Republican caucus Monday, billed as a way to clean up unregulated gambling at corner stores across the state while helping to save Bars, taverns and private clubs that have been buffeted by this year’s COVID-19 closures.
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No one has declared victory or defeat after the first day of closed-door discussion on a plan that was first reported to get a significant pre-summer recess push from Senate leaders last week by Spotlight PA.
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Gambling expansion is always a heavy lift in a state that has about as much of it already as any jurisdiction in the US. Or simply cannibals other players already in the market.
If the bill gets through the Senate, it would also be a final passage in the House of Representatives before going to Governor Tom Wolf’s desk.
Republican leaders’ first sales job is in their own caucus, where they traditionally want the support of a majority of the 29-member majority, and in this case they will likely need more than that for the bill to pass. Magic number of 26 votes for passage in the 50-seat Senate chamber.
That’s because there seems to be little appetite — at this point — for another dramatic expansion of gambling among Senate Democrats.
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But others still felt the bill had a fighting chance because it was powered by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, and Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, and they developed several key selling points designed To allow them to get enough votes from their caucus over the week ahead.
Korman said Monday that while his plan would clearly open the door to licensed gambling in thousands of bars and taverns across the state — as many as 10,000, according to the latest state Liquor Control Board figures — it would also rid the state of so-called ” Scale Games” and other unregulated machines that have proliferated in thousands of independent convenience stores and other businesses over the past three years.
Going forward, up to five of the video gaming terminals and/or skill games may be installed only in businesses that have liquor licenses – and by definition catering to people 21 and older – and subject to state taxation and regulation by the state gaming control board.
It’s a municipal opt-out provision that, similar to the satellite casino development language written into the state’s last major gambling expansion bill in 2017, would allow township boards and borough councils across the state to exclude VGTs or games of skill from being licensed. establishments within their borders if they think that’s what their communities want.
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The proposed opt-out could also be imposed at the county level in counties that are already host to one of the state’s 17 operating or licensed-but-yet-to-be casinos, Korman said.
More than 1,000 municipalities closed the door on satellite casinos in 2017, so it’s a provision that the bill’s backers can say offers a decent level of local control.
Sponsors devised a kicker that would – after two years – begin to channel revenue from a 42 percent state tax on each VGT’s winnings to the reduction of property tax bills for senior citizens. For the first two years, Corman said, proceeds from the games at the bar will go directly to the general fund to help balance a state budget ravaged by the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
“We’ve always talked about doing more for seniors on property tax. This is really the crux of the property tax issue, but we just didn’t have a revenue source for it,” Korman said.
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He estimated the state’s take between $200 million to $250 million annually at full implementation. A 25 percent share of the game’s winnings would go to the licensor hosting the machines, while the rest would be earmarked for the game manufacturer and suppliers.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny County, said Monday he opposes taking up any gambling expansion now — especially in isolation from a broader discussion of the state’s revenue picture, which Costa said It could result in billions of additional dollars in relief from the federal government before the 2020-21 fiscal year ends.
Costa also said he doesn’t see the benefit in adding more forms of gambling, which he believes is a risk to the Pennsylvania Lottery and its mission to support senior benefits, especially when the latest gambling expansion isn’t even fully completed. He said he doesn’t see more than a handful of votes for the Corman/Scarnati plan coming from the minority caucus.
This makes the internal debate of the GOP caucus crucial, both because Scarnati and Corman never like to carry any bill that does not have the support of the majority of their caucus, but also because in this case they will likely need more votes than this .
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Most GOP senators contacted by Monday said they were still listening, noting that no one had yet seen the black letter of a final proposal.
Sen. Robert “Tommy” Tomlinson, R-Bucks County, one of the fathers of the original 2004 gambling bill that legalized slots in Pennsylvania, has since become a fierce defender of the interests of the state’s original casino licensees, all of which have been . Closed for the last quarter due to the pandemic.
He is actively trying to rally other Republican members who have casinos in their districts against the bill.
“We shouldn’t be pushing this thing at all until our casinos are up and running 100 percent,” Tomlinson said in an interview with Monday Morning. “We’re dipping our noses into their economic distress and trying to do something else” that could Hurt them further.
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Corman, however, said the options in his plan could provide primary market protection for the casinos, and he noted that the bill also contains provisions that provide a long-promised refund of state taxes on table games in casinos from the current 16 percent. to 14 percent.
There are also still a small handful of members in the Republican caucus who typically oppose any gambling expansion, like Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster County, who confirmed he would oppose the bill.
And finally, the leaders faced opposition from Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, whose district is home to Miele Manufacturing, perhaps the most prolific producer of skill games in Pennsylvania businesses today.
Miele said she wants to be regulated by the state, but Yaw said the company believes it would not be fair for its games to be taxed at the same rate as VGTs already operating at certain truck stops because of the nature of the games and Their profit margins are so different. “I don’t like the idea of putting them both together because I think they’re two completely different types of games,” Yaw said Monday.
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A similar VGT proposal dominated late discussion in the 2017 gambling expansion bill. The debate ended later that year, after months of stalemate, with a pilot project allowing the machines at certain qualifying truck stops. There are now 135 terminals at 27 truck stops across the state.
At the end of Monday, Korman did not declare victory, but said that he was encouraged to push forward for the rest of the week.
“It’s going to be close,” the majority leader said, noting that there is a lot of lobbying and advertising from all sides on the issue on all sides.
Some of the lobbying comes from David Thomas, a former top Corman aide who was highlighted in the press last week for his role in hosting a Las Vegas fundraiser for Scarnati last fall. One of Thomas’ clients, VGT maker Golden Entertainment, also made a $42,000 donation to a political committee controlled by Scarnati this spring, the Spotlight PA report noted.
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Corman said Thomas’ work with Scarnati was all by the book, but he intended to win the fight on the merits.
“There are a lot of lobbyists in this city. When Governor Wolf signed a big new contract for (city) employees, did anyone talk about all the money that Afscme (the state’s largest union) gave him? When Governor Wolf proposes All the money or education, is anyone talking about how much money PSEA (the state’s largest teachers union) gave him?
“People loving. People donating to campaigns,” Corman continued. “I’ll sit here and talk politics all day with anyone who wants to talk about this issue. Doing nothing, to me, is not acceptable because you have thousands of unregulated machines out there.” , where kids have complete access to them, and you have a money