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Politics & Government

Tavern Gaming Glitch May Have Cooled Expansion Efforts

State lawmakers may be skittish about bridging budget gaps with any more expansions of gambling, due to a so-far failed attempt to bring in big bucks from tavern gambling.

Late last year, as state coffers were looking empty, lawmakers floated ideas of expanding gambling to fill shortfalls.

They legalized small games of chance in bars and taverns. Lawmakers have continued to hear from the administration about adding keno drawings to the Pennsylvania Lottery’s offerings. And, late last year, the state Senate ordered a study to see if they should think about adding casinos or doing more to boost the hefty tax revenues they get from gambling in Pennsylvania.

The report, due in May, examines competition among casinos in and just outside Pennsylvania.

“It also does look at other possibilities, such as online gaming, as another way of getting more revenue,” said Philip Durgin, executive director of the LBFC Committee.

But in the months since the study was requested, lawmakers have soured, somewhat, on the possibility of increasing gambling opportunities and generating quick cash for the commonwealth.

Drew Crompton, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, said lawmakers feel burned since they legalized small games of chance in bars and taverns last fall. They learned in February that the gaming expansion isn’t likely to produce the anticipated $100 million for next year’s budget: bars and taverns have been slow to sign up. At a budget hearing two months ago, the apparent reasons were high license fees and a whole lot of paperwork.

“The small games of chance glitch,” as it’s been called by Crompton, has put a damper on efforts to expand gambling beyond what’s already on the books.

“I think people are skittish about gaming right now,” said Crompton.

Just last December, his boss was the author of the request for the LBFC study on the ramifications of legalizing online gaming.

“There was a miscalculation there on the appetite of taverns to get into small games of chance,” Crompton said.

As a result, he said, lawmakers are making sure that what’s already legal is actually generating money for state coffers.

“I think they are related in some degree,” Crompton said. “The first effort will be to make sure what’s on the books works.”

What's at stake and candidate profiles for statewide races and competitive primaries in Allegheny County.