Keno, lottery privatization could come before Pennsylvania Senate
By Brad Bumsted
Published: Monday, Dec. 9, 2013, 12:45 p.m.
HARRISBURG — There is “broad support” among Senate Republicans to give the governor authority for a private company to manage the state lottery and legalize electronic games such as keno to boost state revenue, the Senate majority leader said on Monday.
But quick action in the Legislature appears unlikely, said Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County. He didn't rule out a vote on Tuesday but noted long odds against that happening. Many senators want further vetting.
The Senate's last scheduled day of the year is Wednesday. The 2013-14 session continues in January.
Since last year, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has pushed to boost lottery profit and revenue for senior programs by hiring Camelot, a British company that runs the United Kingdom's lottery. The company's eighth contract extension expires near the end of December, said Corbett's spokesman, Jay Pagni.
Corbett's plan to privatize management of the lottery stalled because of objections from the union representing lottery employees, and a ruling from Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane in February that the state could not use the fast-paced game keno without legislative approval.
There appears to be agreement among that union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Corbett administration on keeping most state lottery employees' jobs, Pileggi and Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said.
A looming state deficit of at least $800 million might be driving interest, Pileggi acknowledged.
“It's no secret we have a very difficult budget” in 2014, he said.
Pileggi would like to combine keno and casino gambling tax money to provide a property tax freeze for senior citizens.
Word of the union's revised stance on a lottery contract spread last week, but the idea that keno may be part of a plan seemingly surfaced out of the blue on Monday.
Costa of Forest Hills said a contract with Camelot now would be substantially different from what was proposed and would need to be reopened for bids. Camelot's plan was predicated upon using games such as keno to expand revenue.
Costa had said the Senate Appropriations Committee could vote as soon as Monday, but by day's end, Pileggi's office said a vote was off. Lawmakers might take up the issue in 2014, he said.
Corbett faces re-election next year, and at least eight Democrats are vying for his job.
The General Assembly last month approved expanding small games of chance from clubs and fraternal organizations to include bars and taverns. Corbett signed that bill.
The Senate last week approved a resolution directing a legislative research panel to study ways to enhance revenue from commercial gambling. The resolution was sponsored by the Senate's top elected Republican, Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County.
There's some debate among senators whether Pennsylvania is “saturated” with legalized gambling but not to the point of killing a keno proposal, Pileggi said.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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