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House OKs tablet gambling for those flying out of Arnold Palmer, Pittsburgh International

| Tuesday, April 4, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

What could cure the downtime waiting for a flight? Gambling, lawmakers say.

The House approved a bill Tuesday to authorize tablet gambling in boarding areas at eight regional and international airports in Pennsylvania, including Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity and Pittsburgh International Airport. The legislation still needs Senate approval.

Limiting airport gaming to high flyers would keep airports from turning into gaming parlors, supporters said.

“They have a boarding pass, and they're in a certain specified area,” said Rep. Joe Petrarca, D-Washington Township, who added language expanding the bill to include the Unity airport. “You're not going to be able to go there off of the street and walk in and gamble.”

Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, said limiting the gambling to people at least 21 years old and who are utilizing the airport means “it won't create a burden” for the local community in terms of services, and it won't compete with fundraising efforts of local organizations.

Under the proposal, casinos with slot machine licenses could apply for an airport gaming certificate through the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for electronic tablet gaming. Once approved, the casino has to pay a one-time fee of $1 million. The casino would have to pay 14 percent daily gross airport gaming revenue to the state's general fund, and a “multi-use computing device” assessment of 20 percent of its gross airport gaming revenue, which would be distributed back quarterly to each qualified airport.

“I think it's a great opportunity for all the commercial service airports to create some local revenue that they didn't have available to them before,” Monzo said.

Petrarca said tablet gaming in the Unity airport would not qualify Westmoreland County for local share assessment grants received by counties and municipalities that host brick-and-mortar casinos.

The legislation could be amended further as it moves through the Senate.

Kevin Zwick is a Trib Total Media staff writer.

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