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Pennsylvania

House OKs legalization of online gambling, daily fantasy sports but not club, bar video terminals

| Wednesday, June 22, 2016, 8:27 a.m.

HARRISBURG — The state House on Wednesday approved legislation to legalize online gambling and daily fantasy sports, after pulling a provision that would have allowed video gambling terminals in bars and clubs that was the target of heavy lobbying by casinos.

The vote to approve iGaming and fantasy sports was 115-80. The bill will be reviewed for fiscal impact on Thursday and won't be put immediately before the full House for final approval.

The state's 12 casinos united in their efforts to kill video terminals.

In a blow to GOP leadership, the proposal that included video terminals was defeated 116-79. Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, and Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, voted for that amendment, proposed by Rep. George Dunbar, R-Westmoreland.

Miskin disputed it was a blow because “there was no push to get people to vote.”

House Republican leadership is driving the expansion of gambling as an alternative to raising taxes.

“It will be held pending further budget talks,” said Steve Miskin, a House GOP spokesman.

By law the budget is due June 30.

Dunbar predicted that all of the initiatives in his defeated amendment—including video terminals—would have brought in more than $500 million the first year.

A breakdown shows 59 Republicans voted for it and 56 opposed it. Three were excused. Among Democrats, 60 were opposed, 20 in favor and one excused.

The pared amendment proposed by Rep. Rosita Youngblood, D-Philadelphia, won approval without debate. It provides iGaming and adds slots at airports and at off-track betting parlors. Miskin said this version would garner about $200 million in new revenue.

Video terminal supporters say the machines are a high-tech version of now-illegal “video poker” machines used for wagering.

“Illegal gaming is going on in every one of our districts,” said Rep. Paul Costa, D-Wilkins.

The terminals would have replaced up to 40,000 machines widely in use and appeal to a vastly different clientele than casino patrons, Costa said.

Five terminals would have been available at each tavern, club or fire hall.

But Rep. Flo Fabrizio, D-Erie, said the legislation would have established “9,000 mini-casinos across the state.”

Terminal opponents cited Department of Revenue estimates that lottery proceeds could have been lowered by 2 percent to 5 percent. Casinos said their revenue would be hurt.

“I say that's nonsense,” said Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg. The machines are there and operating now in taverns, VFW's and legions, he said.

An estimated 21,000 terminals would have been available in bars, private clubs, and fire halls, said Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Moon, a key supporter. Opponents said it could be three times higher.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he is willing to look at expanded gaming but he wants to make sure the “revenue is real and recurring,” his spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said.

Pennsylvania's casinos have churned $12.2 billion in after-tax revenue since 2006. A share of the taxes go to property tax reductions. The lottery pays for senior citizen programs.

Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com. Carley Mossbrook is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association.

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