Pa. lawmakers will take up the future of gambling

Pennsylvania's casino-gambling industry , begun in 2006, saw its revenue shrink last year for the first time. This player is at Harrah's in Chester. AP
Pennsylvania's casino-gambling industry , begun in 2006, saw its revenue shrink last year for the first time. This player is at Harrah's in Chester. AP
Posted: June 04, 2014

Hand-wringing over the future of Pennsylvania's casino-gambling industry - which shrank in revenue last year for the first time since it began in 2006 - will resume Tuesday in Harrisburg at a state Senate hearing.

The hearing, organized by the Committee on Community, Economic, and Recreational Development, is expected to expand on a May 7 session, during which a report on the industry by Econsult Solutions was released.

Returning from a break, legislators are plunging into a difficult budget season, facing a budget gap that could soar as high as $1.2 billion in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Likely on everyone's mind, but not on the agenda Tuesday, is if or when the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will pick a winner from the five applicants for the second casino license in Philadelphia.

The next public meeting of the gaming control board is scheduled for June 11, but the agenda has not been released. Gaming board chairman William H. Ryan Jr. is on the list of speakers for Tuesday's meeting, which is scheduled to run from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The purpose of the hearing is to consider the current condition and potential for growth in the Pennsylvania casino industry in an increasingly challenging environment, according to the hearing announcement.

"The Commonwealth must be diligent in avoiding the status quo to prevent stagnation and decline in the industry along with the revenues and jobs it generates," the announcement said.

Tax revenue from gambling reached $1.41 billion in 2012 before falling to $1.38 billion last year.

The legislators will likely get an earful on what to do from the representatives of nine of the state's 12 casinos invited to the hearing, including executives from all four of the casinos in the immediate Philadelphia area.

The executives are split into two panels, one on business trends and one on Internet gambling, the tentative agenda said.

After the May 7 hearing, Senate President Joseph B. Scarnati III said Pennsylvania legislators would explore the authorization of online gambling.

Sen. Edwin B. Erickson (R., Chester/Delaware), who announced last summer that he would leave the Senate after his current term expires, announced last week that he intended to introduce a bill to legalize online poker, but not online slots.

Under Erickson's proposal, current licensees would have to pay an additional $5 million to offer Internet poker. The tax rate would be 14 percent, 1 percentage point lower than the rate for online gambling in New Jersey.

But New Jersey went much easier on the up-front fees, charging just $650,000 for existing casinos to get started online.


hbrubaker@phillynews.com

215-854-4651

@InqBrubaker

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