ccording to the report published by The Mercury newspaper, the bill was approved by Republican majority leaders in order to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from taxes and license fees to help prop up, if temporarily, the state’s threadbare treasury.
The bill represents perhaps Pennsylvania’s biggest gambling expansion since it legalized casinos in 2004.
Under the bill, a liquor license holder, such as a bar, truck stop, bowling alley, VFW hall or fraternal club, could operate slot machine-style gambling machines, called video gaming terminals. As many as 40,000 terminals would be allowed statewide, with a limit of five at each establishment, 10 at truck stops.
Supporters estimated that 7,000 to 8,000 bars and other establishments could be expected to host a terminal, with tax revenue going to the state, the lottery, the establishment and local governments.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said the vote was an important step before budget negotiations heat up this month. It was not clear whether it would garner support from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf or the Republican-controlled state Senate, which passed a much narrower gambling bill last month. But Reed said that there is little support in the House for the money-raising alternative, a tax increase.
Opponents complained during floor debate that they had not had a chance to read the bill, made public Wednesday afternoon, or ask questions about provisions that could allow gambling at thousands of bars.
“If you’ve all had the chance to read it, I don’t know how you did it,” Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery, told colleagues.
House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Scott Petri, R-Bucks, opposed it too, saying the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the Pennsylvania State Police had not had a chance to give input on the regulatory scheme envisioned by the bill for new license applicants.
The Pennsylvania Lottery also would be able to bring its games online, making Pennsylvania the first state to allow both casino and lottery games online.