Pennsylvania Lawmakers Wrestle with Major Gambling Bill

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Top Republicans in the Pennsylvania State Senate are pressing sweeping gambling legislation that would allow slot machine-like terminals in bars, restaurants, non-profit social clubs, and other businesses that hold liquor licenses.

The legislation could deliver new gambling tax dollars to a state treasury hurting from stay-at-home and shutdown orders issued by Gov. Tom Wolf to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

It also seeks to ban thousands of unregulated cash-paying “skill” game terminals from a wide array of establishments in Pennsylvania that do not have liquor licenses.

No Senate vote had been scheduled as of Tuesday as Senate Republican leaders worked to build enough support for it to pass. The bill is opposed by two erstwhile adversaries: casino owners in the nation’s No. 2 commercial casino state and Georgia-based Pace-O-Matic, maker of the software in most common skill terminals, marketed as Pennsylvania Skill games.

Wolf, a Democrat, is taking a dim view of it, warning in a statement from his office that state programs already fed by a “multitude” of legal gambling options, from slot machines in casinos to online lottery games, could lose dollars. He opposes the bill in its current form, his office said.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, framed the bill not necessarily as an expansion of gambling, but as a way to get forms of unregulated gambling under control.

“The overall goal is to bring into the light the tens of thousands of unregulated games of skill and VGT devices that are out there in Pennsylvania today,” Corman said.

Senate Republican budget analysts projected that taxing the VGTs could yield $200 million to $250 million a year, Corman said.

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