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Still At Odds Over Budget, Senate Assembles New Gambling Plan

Heather Ainsworth

This week the state Senate is expected to consider a budget proposal that’s already been approved by the House, and leaders say the borrowing-heavy plan might be the only avenue to finding consensus.

But disagreements remain on a key component of the revenue package: how to expand gambling.

Many House members have long wanted to legalize remote video gaming terminals—or VGTs— in bars and taverns. They argue illegal terminals already exist, and should be regulated.

But in the Senate, leaders have been blunt. Republicans and Democrats both say the terminals are off the table.

Senate Republican Leader Jake Corman said an alternative might be creating small, so-called ancillary casinos—though he sees hurdles there too.

“One thing I’m looking for in that is some sort of local input,” he said. “For a casino to pop up in someone’s community, I think the community should have some sort of input.”

Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa also said that even with ancillary casinos, the legislature might not be able to come up with the $265 million dollars the House earmarked for gaming revenue.

“It’s very high,” he said. “I think at the end of the day we have to be realistic about what we might be able to do.”

In a press conference near a convenience store said to be housing an illegal gaming terminal, a few House members—like Lancaster County Democrat Mike Sturla—tried to appeal to Senate leaders.

“When the state needs revenue, and there’s an illegal, black-market industry going on in the state, it just doesn’t seem to make sense,” he said.

Allegheny County Republican Mustio echoed the Senate’s concerns that ancillary casinos wouldn’t raise much new revenue—though he says he anticipates they’d have a different effect.

“If you talk to some of the casinos, they don’t even want the ancillary casinos,” he said. “But it’s a way to block legalizing video gaming terminals in the future; if you put more ancillary machines out there in more legislative districts, then those legislators or senators in those districts aren’t necessarily going to be for legalizing video gaming terminals in the future.”

Gambling money would be among the only sources of recurring revenue to fill the commonwealth’s $2.2 billion dollar funding gap—though it’s a relatively miniscule amount.

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