Gaming expansion agreement continues slow progress

Gaming expansion agreement continues slow progress

Author: Jason Gottesman/Monday, June 19, 2017/Categories: News and Views

With lawmakers and legislative staff holding nearly non-stop meetings to find some middle ground on a gaming expansion measure crucial to the coming fiscal year’s budget, progress on Monday toward that agreement was reported as slow.


While Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) said it’s his hope to run a gaming bill through the Senate this week, what that bill will look like is apparently still taking shape.


“We’re trying to work through a lot of issues right now and gaming is at the forefront just because it’s the next step in the equation and it’s very close to having a universal agreement,” said House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana). “It’s like any other major piece of legislation, you take two steps forward and one step back. Until we get a final product, that’ll continue.”


Also speaking to the issue Monday was Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), who noted that while there will likely be some gaming expansion measure that lawmakers hope will bring in $200 million to $250 million for the coming fiscal year, that exact make up of what will be in that bill remains to be seen.


Currently, he said, the two biggest question marks remain whether the controversial video gaming terminals (VGTs) will be included and whether ancillary gaming sites will be legalized.


“Those conversations are taking place…those conversations exist,” he said. “VGTs are a tough sell in the Senate, especially in the Senate Democratic Caucus.”


He said it’s not his preference to include VGTs in the mix of gaming expansion possibilities.


“I think we, unfortunately, do not look at casinos as partners,” he said. “I believe VGTs will be harmful to that casino industry and I think we need to take steps to recognize that and honor that.”


Meanwhile, outside entities stepped up their campaign against VGTs with Pennsylvanians for Responsible Government issuing a statement arguing Illinois’ seeing casinos and a lottery system with declining revenue should be a cautionary tale for Pennsylvania as they move toward gaming expansion that may or may not include VGTs.


“The failure of VGTs is well chronicled in Illinois where they have cannibalized the lottery and casino industries and killed jobs in the process,” said organization spokesman Mike Barley. “In Pennsylvania, VGTs will not raise the tax revenue they are projecting and reduce the amount homeowners see in property tax relief. Pennsylvania lawmakers would be wise to take notes and learn lessons from Illinois’ failed VGT gamble.”


However, Rep. Reed had choice words Monday for lobbyists and other who might be prognosticating the fate of the gaming bill.


“To lobbyists out there declaring VGTs dead, I’m pretty sure they declared it dead before the House passed it as well,” he said. “Time will tell and the funny thing about this place is that legislators get to vote, not lobbyists.”