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Pennsylvania Senate moves to expand online gambling

| Tuesday, May 23, 2017, 7:36 p.m.
A Rivers Casino employee reaches for chips at a roulette table at Rivers Casino.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune Review
A Rivers Casino employee reaches for chips at a roulette table at Rivers Casino.

The Senate advanced gaming legislation Tuesday, showing its hand to the House as the two chambers continue working toward an agreement on expanding gaming in Pennsylvania.

“We needed to show them where we are,” said Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield. “We need to get this started.”

The Senate added sweeping language to bring casino-style gambling and the Pennsylvania Lottery to online players to a bill authorizing tablet gaming at eight airports, including Arnold Palmer Regional Airport near Latrobe and Pittsburgh International Airport.

Gambling would be limited to people at least 21 years old who are utilizing the airport.

The Senate's proposal could generate between $109 million and $146 million in the next fiscal year, as lawmakers grapple with at least a half-billion-dollar shortfall this year and at least a $2 billion deficit next year.

The Senate could hold a final vote on the bill as early as Wednesday and send it to the House.

“This reflects what we felt, that we had the votes to pass and move on to the House for further discussions,” said Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre.

Ward, a member of the Senate gaming committee who had chaired the committee until the start of this legislative session, said the House likely will change the bill and return it to the Senate.

“We hopefully can bring this to a conclusion,” she said. “It's frustrating.”

The Legislature is facing a court-ordered deadline to fix the local share assessment, which was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court last year. The deadline, which has been extended once, is Friday. The Senate bill aimed to address the court's constitutional concerns.

“I have not at all given up on trying to take better care of the counties that don't have a casino and get any of that gaming money,” Ward said.

Westmoreland County hosts no casinos so it receives no local share grants.

Kevin Zwick is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2856, kzwick@tribweb.com or via Twitter @kevinjzwick.

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