Lawmakers tackle gambling bills ahead court deadline

Lawmakers tackle gambling bills ahead court deadline

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With a Friday court deadline providing a catalyst, lawmakers in the House and Senate are moving to tackle long-debated gambling issues including the reinstatement of a local share assessment on casino slot machine revenue.

Bipartisan votes by the House Gaming Oversight Committee approved two separate bills May 21 to reinstate the local share.

The bills – House Bill 1342 and House Bill 1301– would require that Category 1 and Category 2 casinos pay an annual fee of $10 million to host municipalities and a payment of 2 percent to the host county.

But they differ in how the local share revenue for some casinos would be distributed.

The Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee has scheduled an off-the-floor meeting Tuesday on House Bill 271, a House-approved airport tablet gambling bill seen as a vehicle for gambling expansion legislation.

Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, the committee chairman, said he is preparing to amend the bill with provisions to expand legalized gambling and reinstate the local share. The amendment is expected to address the legalization of internet gambling and fantasy sports betting.

Drew Crompton, chief of staff for Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said the Senate plans to send a gambling bill to the House this week.

With the June 30 budget deadline to pass a fiscal 2017-18 state budget just weeks away, lawmakers are under pressure to fill a revenue hole in the current state budget. The budget is based on the assumption that new gambling will generate $100 million for state coffers.

The state Supreme Court has given lawmakers until Friday to pass a new local share assessment that meets constitutional muster.

The court declared the assessment unconstitutional last fall on grounds that it wasn’t levied uniformly on casinos. The court said a provision in the 2004 gambling law requiring casinos to pay a 2-percent tax or 10 million, whichever is higher, to host municipalities created a variable

The May 26 deadline is the second set by the court since last fall’s court order.

“I think it was important for [committee] members to have a vote on the local share before the court deadline,” said Gaming Oversight Chairman Scott Petri, R-Bucks. “I don’t think the court is going to give us another deadline.”

Committee members voted the interests of their own districts on several amendments to change the existing distribution of local share money, said Petri.

The committee rejected amendments to give part of Hollywood Casino’s local share assessment that goes to Dauphin County to Lebanon County and to give a portion of each casino’s local share assessment to a state-run volunteer fire company grant program.