HARRISBURG, Pa. – The state House of Representatives (search) passed and sent to the governor a bill to legalize as many as 61,000 slot machines in Pennsylvania.
As the Legislature's marathon election-year session continued early Sunday, the House also appeared likely to approve a companion measure that would eventually funnel $1 billion a year of the new gambling tax revenue into property tax cuts for homeowners.
The slots bill was approved 113-88 following an 81/2-hour debate.
The measure's opponents predicted it would result into an increase of crime, addiction and other social ills if it becomes law. They complained the bill was crafted in secret by a handful of party leaders and lacks safeguards against corruption and conflicts of interest among members of the state panel that would oversee the proposed 14 slots parlors.
Republican Rep. Daryl D. Metcalfe (search) said the legislation was "Machiavellian" and "extremely flawed." He said it would spawn increases in crime, bankruptcies, divorce and child abuse.
"Our new revenue could easily be zeroed out" by the costs of coping with those problems, he said.
House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese accused the bill's critics of "demagoguing" in an attempt to kill the measure.
"We are at the threshold of a historic moment," said DeWeese, a Democrat.
Action on the two bills was delayed for hours Saturday as the administration of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and leaders of the Republican legislative majority wrangled behind the scenes over details in a $23 billion state budget that should have been in place when the new fiscal year began Thursday.
The Senate approved the slots bill Friday and the tax bill Saturday. Together, the measures would authorize as many as 61,000 slot machines (search) -- more than any other state except Nevada -- and most of the resulting tax revenue estimated at $1 billion a year would be used to reduce local property taxes by an average 20 percent.
A proposed gambling commission would issue slots licenses to racetracks, resorts and other sites for fees ranging up to $50 million apiece.
The bill would make Pennsylvania the 18th state to legalize slot-machine gambling, not counting casinos run by Indian tribes, according to the American Gaming Association.
Proponents said the bill would allow the state to recapture much of the money Pennsylvanians pour into slot machines in neighboring states and help revive the state's horse racing industry.
The property-tax reduction would not be immediate. Officials say the initial relief would be deferred until at least 2006 to allow the slots parlors time to obtain licenses and gear up.