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Pennsylvania Legislators Having Difficulty Resolving Casino Table Games Issue

More than seven hundred million in taxpayer dollars allocated for Penn State and several other universities in the state of Pennsylvania are currently in limbo. To state lawmakers met on October 19th, 2009 without reaching a deal on how to expand Pennsylvania's casino gaming that Governor Ed Rendell said is necessary to finalize the state budget and raise enough money for state universities in the next two years.

The state legislators' meeting was their first since October 9th, 2009, when Gov. Rendell approved the key bills necessary to end the nearly three-month old budget impasse in Pennsylvania. Allowing casino table games and releasing money to the state schools are the only unresolved portions of the $27.8 billion budget package, but a major point of contention for legislators is deciding how high the tax rate that should be imposed on casino table game winnings by the state.

Gov. Rendell told state lawmakers before they met that he will not approve a bill that will not produce at least $200 million this year from the taxes and fees the state government would receive by allowing casino table games like blackjack to Pennsylvania's slot machine casinos.

Rendell said that they have waited 101 days to finalize a state budget that fulfill his two conditions that he put down. He added that one of those conditions was that it would produce enough revenue to balance the budge next year and he is serious about that condition.

State legislators talk for more than an hour in Gov. Rendell's office but emerged with little to celebrate. Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (Republican-Delaware) said that it was good that they had a meeting on the issue but there was no resolution on the issue. He said that they need at least another meeting to reach a resolution.

A lot of legislators seemed to agree to a license cost of $15 million from each casino facility who wants to offer casino table games. Pennsylvania's miniature "resort" casinos would have tp pay $7.5 million. But lawmakers disagree on other aspects of casino table games beginning with the state's rate on winning and the issue of whether to allocation a part of the tax revenue for the counties and municipalities that host the gaming facilities.

House Democrat also wants to take out the limitations on the resort casinos that prevent them from competing effectively with Pennsylvania's nine bigger casino facilities, a provision vehemently opposed by Senate Republicans. One resort casino is already licensed, but it is not yet operating while the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considers a lawsuit filed by the owners of the Philadelphia Park Casino.

Two applications for a second casino license are pending with gaming regulators. Governor Rendell said that the tax rate must be at least sixteen percent to yield along with the license costs at least $200 million. But he cautioned against placing a tax rate so high that it might kill the gaming industry. Gov. Rendell also warned that state legislators must prevent casino facilities from removing existing machines and endangering the revenue source for state schools.

Rendell said that until a casino table games bill is approved, he will hold up $730 million in discretionary funding for universities and other institutions. Penn State is suffering the largest budget hole, waiting on a total of $334 million from the state or nine percent of its budget.

Temple is supposed to receive about $173 million; Pitt about $168 million and Lincoln about $14 million. Another $34.5 million is allocated for the University of Pennsylvania.

Much of that money is for the School of Veterinary Medicine of the University, which is an important link in the agriculture and food safety network of Pennsylvania.


Tuesday, November 10 , 2009
Kim Watson