GOP lawmakers say Corbett's lottery privatization plan needs legislative approval
HARRISBURG — Some GOP lawmakers question Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's lottery privatization plan that would allow keno games in taverns, bars and restaurants.
Introducing keno, a bingo-like lottery game, over the next five years would expand the state's gambling and, therefore, require legislative approval, lawmakers in both parties say.
“I believe a lot of (Republican) members think legislative approval is needed for an expansion of gambling,” said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans, the majority party.
Yet Corbett would not need lawmakers' approval to accept, by month's end, the lone bid for 20-year management of the Pennsylvania Lottery by Camelot Global Services PA LLC, an offshoot of the company that runs the United Kingdom's National Lottery, said Corbett's spokesman Kevin Harley.
Nor does Corbett need legislative approval for the keno portion of the contract, Harley said.
The goal is to boost lottery revenue for senior programs, said Department of Revenue spokeswoman Elizabeth Brassell. By 2030, more than one-fourth of the state's population will be 65 or older.
The lottery had sales of $3.2 billion in 2010-11 and provided more than $960 million for senior programs, ranging from low-cost prescription drugs, free and reduced transit, and property tax and rent rebates.
The state would own the lottery under the proposal, Brassell said.
Pennsylvania would join 14 states with keno, she said, a game similar to Pennsylvania's defunct Super 7 game but with drawings throughout the day.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, said he generally supports privatization. But the keno portion of the proposal “needs legislative approval,” Metcalfe said. If Corbett proceeds with the contract and the keno games, “I'd expect he'd be sued.”
“I think it would be a grave mistake to alienate conservatives supportive of privatization and, at the same time, thumb your nose at the Legislature,” Metcalfe said. “It deserves debate on the (House) floor. It deserves debate in the Senate.”
Bill Patton, spokesman for House Democrats, called keno and online gaming “major expansions” of legalized gambling in Pennsylvania.
“We believe it does require legislative approval. It is wrong to make a change of this magnitude by a secretive administrative process. This needs careful consideration and public input,” he said.
Patton's boss, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, this week summed up the proposal: “The whole thing stinks.”
Bidding is closed, Brassell said. She argued the process was transparent — available for public review at www.revenue.state.pa.us/lotteryPMA.
Said Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson: “We are reviewing it.”
Senate Democratic leaders, in the minority party, have voiced opposition.
With a sole bidder, the idea is “raising some red flags,” said Rep. Glen Grell, R-Mechanicsburg. That can lead to questions about whether officials wrote a bid proposal in a way to exclude others, Grell said.
It's not clear what the Corbett administration would do for some state lottery employees who likely would lose jobs, Grell said. Some are his constituents.
The impact from keno might not be as dramatic as some think.
West Virginia authorized keno games in 1992 as part of its lottery, founded in 1986. With total lottery revenue of $1.5 billion, keno raised $6.2 million of that as of June 30, said West Virginia lottery spokesman Dean Patrick.
West Virginia's lottery funds tourism, education and senior programs, Patrick said.
Eugene DePasquale, Pennsylvania auditor general-elect, questions whether Corbett could move ahead on a contract.
Asked about the sole bidder, DePasquale said not many firms are qualified to manage a lottery the size of Pennsylvania's. He said he would work to ensure money goes toward senior programs.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.