Lawmakers favor gaming fund study
The state Senate today expects to consider a resolution to study the potential for growth of the commonwealth's gaming industry, including online gambling.
After generating more than $6 billion since the Gaming Act was signed into law in 2004, revenues have begun to downshift, while the state's bills continue to pile up.
Gaming at the state's 12 casinos generated $249.5 million in revenue in October, up slightly from $243.7 million in October 2012, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
Meanwhile, gambling venues are increasing fast in neighboring New Jersey and New York, and Pennsylvania needs to keep up, said the resolution's prime sponsor, Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati III, R-Jefferson County.
"The resolution came about as we continue to watch our gaming revenues go flat and in some instances decline in comparison to last year's revenues," said Scarnati early Wednesday.
"This funding has been a significant benefit to Pennsylvania residents through providing wage and property tax relief to homeowners, sustaining the state's horse racing industry, enhancing economic development and aiding local governments, police and emergency services, as well as easing the increasing strain on the commonwealth's general fund budget," Scarnati added.
"The primary focus of the Senator is to try to look at other states and analyze what they're doing," said Scarnati aide Drew Crompton.
"The study will determine whether the law necessitates any changes. The alarming part is that (gaming revenues) are stagnant. They are not dropping drastically, but they seem to have plateaued. We are making sure our law isn't prohibiting us from doing things other states are doing."
That includes online gambling.
The resolution asks that the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee committee "analyze the potential impact of online gaming on the gaming industry, including the impact online gaming may have on the commonwealth's tax revenues and employment at the commonwealth's casinos."
The study, due May 1 the same time lawmakers will be crafting the annual budget would recommend changes to the gaming law aimed at "sustaining and maximizing gaming revenue and the positive economic impact of gaming in our Commonwealth," Scarnati wrote in a memo to colleagues.
Gaming is a moneymaker for the state: Since the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act was signed into law in 2004, 12 casinos have opened in Pennsylvania. They employ more than 16,000 people, and have generated more than $6 billion in revenue.
"This funding has been used to provide wage and property tax relief to homeowners, sustain the state's horse racing industry, enhance economic development and aid local governments, police and emergency services as well as easing the increasing strain on the commonwealth's general fund budget," Scarnati wrote.
State Sen. David G. Argall, R-Berks-Carbon-Lehigh-Monroe-Northampton-Schuylkill, is among those lawmakers supporting the resolution.
"With increased competition from other states, this study will allow the public to review the possible future of this industry." he said.
Sen. John Yudichak, D-Carbon-Luzerne-Monroe, also favors the study.
"While we must tread carefully when it comes to expanding gambling in Pennsylvania, the reality is that if we want to continue adequately funding education, property tax relief and other essential programs and services we must find new ways to generate consistent and reliable revenue," Yudichak said.
"This study would start the conversation about what avenues may be available to bridge our projected budget gap by capitalizing on additional opportunities in the gaming industry."
Other senators who support the resolution are Kim Ward, R-39; Robert Tomlinson, R-6; Patrick M. Browne, R-16; Edwin B. Erickson, R-26; Randy Vulakovich, R-40; John Rafferty, R-44; Patricia Vance, R-31; Donald White, R-41; Richard Alloway, R-33; Lisa Baker, R-20; Judith Schwank, D-11; Tim Solobay, D-46; Michael Stack, D-5; and Vincent J. Hughes, D-20.
Last year, Carbon County received $907,453 from the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Finance Authority's Local Share grants. This represents about 80 percent of the expected $1.4 million cost for new radio equipment required for the narrowbanding project.
The county will use this money to help cover the costs of purchasing 388 portable radios, 149 mobile radios, and 498 pages to upgrade county and municipal EMS, police, and fire department communication systems.