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Pennsylvania Legislators Continues to Discuss Casino Gaming Proposal

State House legislators worked to advance a proposal to permit casino table games like blackjack at the slot machine casinos of Pennsylvania in an unusual session on October 4th, 2009 as the politically divided House struggled to finalize a state budget that is already three months overdue. The casino gaming proposal is an important element of the legislators' effort to find a new source of tax revenue that will offset Pennsylvania's huge revenue shortfall.

On the sidelines of the talk, Governor Ed Rendell worked to patched up a rift between House Democrats and Senate Republicans after last week's collapse of a temporary budget agreement between leaders. Rendell reported a significant progress in the talks but would not divulge any details of his talks.

Aside from that, the Democratic-penned proposal received a staunch opposition from the Republicans. The session ended at 11:00 p.m. after 8 long hours of tense debate. A final decision on the casino gaming proposal was not expected before October 6th, 2009. Even if the proposal is approved, it is expected to face a lot of changes in the Senate. Leaders of the Republican-dominated Senate favor allowing a taxing casino table games to help solve Pennsylvania's multi-billion dollar budget deficit but they oppose some important aspects of the bill.

Democrats hope to raise about $240 million from a 34% tax rate on the casinos take from casino table games a $20 million fee that casinos must pay for the opportunity to offer the games. But casino facilities say that those costs may be too big to manage a respectable business and Senate Republicans agree with those sentiments. Talks quickly became testy between the two sides.

Representative Kathy Rapp (Republican-Warren) said that she thinks that it is a sad day in the state when the members of the House of Representatives are called to Harrisburg to talk about casino gaming on a Sunday afternoon.

Democrats quickly fired back at Rep. Rapp. Representative Christopher Sainato (Democrat-Lawrence) said that when you are a duly-elected member of the state legislature, you are expected to be present in the legislature everyday of the week especially when the state does not have any budget.

During the talks, the House passed a few amendments, including doubling the amount of money given to gaming addiction treatment programs to $4 million but dismissed others including a proposal from Republicans to ban ATM machines in casino facilities and force gaming facilities to close on Christmas day and everyday between 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.

Representative Joseph Preston (Democrat-Allegheny), accused Republican legislators of mounting a self-righteous opposition to the gaming issue, stating that they are not limiting other forms of gaming like church bingo and the lottery.

That brought an immediate criticism from Minority Whip Mike Turzai (Republican-Allegheny), who said that Preston's comments are out of line. Aside from approving casino table games, the proposal would triple the amount of slot machines permitted at Pennsylvania's "resort" casinos to $1,500 machines, a provision opposed by the Republicans and Pennsylvania's bigger casinos.

It would also enforce provisions to combat corruption, including reinforcing the walls between gaming regulators and casino organizations and restoring the ban on campaign contributions coming from the gaming industry. The state Supreme Court dismissed a previous ban in April 2009, stating that completely prohibiting contributions went further in practice than required for by the 2004 law that allowed slot-machine gaming facilities.

 

Sunday, November 01 , 2009
Tim Arnell