HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania lawmakers have to fill a $1.2 billion budget shortfall, but Republicans who control the state Legislature don’t favor Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s tax-heavy, $33.8 billion plan.
Might they have a few aces up their sleeves as the calendar creeps closer to the June 30 budget deadline?
Lawmakers are considering a huge expansion of the state’s gambling laws, with legalizing Internet gaming the centerpiece of a bill queued up in the Senate. The legislation would also allow racinos and casinos to place slot machines in off-track-betting facilities and satellite locations, with as many as 32 new homes for slots possible.
To get in on the action, casinos would have to pay hefty upfront fees. If lawmakers move quickly enough, it’s conceivable those fees could flow into state coffers sometime in the next fiscal year, but state Sen. Kim Ward, who is spearheading the legislation, said plugging the shortfall isn’t the objective.
“That’s not what is prompting it at all,” said Ward, a Westmoreland County Republican who chairs the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee.
Several bills are in play in both the House and Senate, but Ward’s committee has been holding hearings on her proposal, which includes big-time licensing fees. She acknowledged that portion of the proposal could help the budget in the short term, even though the revenue potential of online gaming is still hazy.