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Politics & Government

Lawmakers Making Early Plans For Gaming Legislation

Matt Rourke

The 2017 legislative session has yet to begin, but some lawmakers are already making plans for the new year, and casino-related laws are among those at the top of the list.

A closed-door meeting on Jan. 3 has been planned between lawmakers and representatives from all of the state’s 12 casinos.

When it was passed this summer, the state’s operating budget included $100 million in new gambling revenue, but no bill was ever passed to provide the money.

Then, in the fall, the state Supreme Court struck down a decade-old law that had required casinos to pay hefty fees to their host communities. The court gave lawmakers until January to pass a replacement bill, but so far no agreement has stuck.

Westmoreland County Senator Kim Ward, said those will be the primary issues addressed in January.

Ward, a Republican, is spearheading January’s meeting. She noted that lawmakers—including herself—are still interested in changing how casino tax money is distributed.

“We’d like to get some revenue, some way, into the counties that aren’t recipients of the largesse that comes along with having a casino in your district,” she said.

That’s the same issue that prevented lawmakers from passing a fix last session.

Ward also noted that any changes to the law can’t be pushed off—this is likely the only opportunity lawmakers will have in many years to change the funding streams.

“Once you open the bill, if there are going to be changes, they’re going to come now,” she said. ”That’s not going to happen again for a long, long time.”

Ward said the meeting will be primarily informational. She added that she expects it’ll take around six months to pass any legislation.