After a Saturday of closed meetings, GOP leaders indicate directional shift in Pa.

     Lobbyists and lawmakers mill around the Capitol rotunda on an unusually busy Saturday. (Katie Meyer/WITF)

    Lobbyists and lawmakers mill around the Capitol rotunda on an unusually busy Saturday. (Katie Meyer/WITF)

    Lawmakers are working through the weekend as they try to finish a budget that’s already more than a week late.

    Saturday’s session saw both chambers back at the Capitol, and leaders from all five caucuses in closed meetings throughout the day.

    It also led to some movement on troublesome gaming negotiations.

    After extended disputes between House and Senate Republicans over how to expand gambling to help fill a roughly $2 billion budget hole, Senate leaders indicated they’re going in a new direction.

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    Initially, the hang-up was whether to legalize video gambling terminals — or VGTs — in bars. But GOP leaders now say a likelier option is to license up to 10 miniature casinos, on top of the 12 already doing business in Pennsylvania.

    Senate Republican Appropriations chair Pat Browne put it most plainly.

    “I think you’re aware of the issue regarding VGTs?” he asked reporters. “That is no longer part of the conversation here. The ancillary casinos are part of it. That’s definitely going to be part of it. Those are the two biggest components.”

    The House hasn’t yet brought up the so-called “ancillary” casino option to its members, and the chamber’s GOP spokesman, Stephen Miskin, indicated some of them are still resolutely in favor of legalizing VGTs.

    He confirmed negotiations had shifted toward the casino license expansion, but noted that “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”

    Senate Republican Leader Jake Corman said adding additional casinos isn’t his favorite idea, but he’ll support it if his members will approve it.

    “As a leader, I’m for 26. Whatever I can get 26, 102, and 1 for. And this seems to be an area where we can get to that,” he said.

    Corman said existing casinos would likely be able to bid for the licenses to the new ones, which would be categorized as a lower tier. The ancillary casinos would also have to be a certain distance from the others, to keep from impacting their business too much.

    Lawmakers have until Monday at midnight before an unbalanced plan becomes law automatically.

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