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Politics & Government

With Little Notice, House Narrowly Moves Massive Gambling Expansion

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Matt Rourke
/
AP
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, at podium, speaks Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015.

The state House of Representatives quickly introduced and passed a sweeping new gambling bill Wednesday evening, which would significantly expand the industry.

Most lawmakers only laid eyes on the nearly 700-page bill about six hours before they voted on it.  

The measure had already been amended and passed in both chambers. But in one afternoon, the House gutted it and inserted new language to include nearly every major gaming expansion proposed in the last several years.

It now legalizes fantasy sports betting, internet gambling, gaming tablets in airports, slot machines at off-track betting parlors, and up to 40,000 video gaming terminals in places like bars, nursing homes, and truck stops.

The bill also includes a required fix to the way casinos pay fees to their host municipalities.  

Many House members--including Bucks County Republican Scott Petri, who heads the Gaming Committee, protested the bill being brought to a vote with so little input from lawmakers.

Petri called the measure a "a complicated, convoluted regulatory scheme that we have no idea whether it'll be effective," adding that "The only thing we know is once we make it law, the gaming control board will be stuck with it, and we will be left with a surprising bill."

Specific complaints included longstanding concerns that expanding gaming to new platforms--like the internet and remote video gaming terminals--will "cannibalize" business from traditional casinos, revenue from which helps subsidize programs for the elderly.

The bill is expected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the financially-struggling commonwealth, though it doesn't yet have a formal fiscal note.

It now goes to the Senate, where it likely faces changes.