Gambling terminals get a House hearing as Pa. searches for revenue

     A worker checks an array of video gambling terminals  at Thistledown Racino in North Randall, Ohio. Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering legalizing the video gambling terminals in bars and other businesses.(AP file photo)

    A worker checks an array of video gambling terminals at Thistledown Racino in North Randall, Ohio. Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering legalizing the video gambling terminals in bars and other businesses.(AP file photo)

    A Pennsylvania House panel is considering a plan to help fill significant budget gaps that have been left open for gambling revenue.

    The Gaming Committee held a public hearing Monday on a longstanding proposal to legalize video gambling terminals in bars and other businesses.

    House Bill 1010 would allow installation of up to 35,000 terminals in bars, social clubs, and other such businesses.

    The state stands to earn $100 million in its first year, proponents said, and $500 million annually once the plan is fully implemented.

    It makes policy sense too, since many thousands of the terminals are already operating illegally, said Rep. Mike Sturla,one of the bill’s biggest proponents.

    “Instead of turning a blind eye to an illegal industry that’s going on in the state of Pennsylvania … this really does clean it up for everyone, and lets everyone play on a level playing field,” said Sturla, D-Lancaster.

    Opponents of the bill are mainly allied with traditional casinos, which say remote gambling terminals would “cannibalize” their business.

    But casinos’ bottom line shouldn’t be the state’s priority, said bill sponsor Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Allegheny County.

    “Some have said over the years that we’re partners with the casinos,” he said. “You know, I personally disagree with that. In my opinion, we’re partners with our constituents.”

    Many of the plan’s detractors tend to have casinos in their districts.

    Gaming revenue expansion is a perennial issue in Harrisburg.

    The commonwealth’s current budget left open $100 million for new money from gaming, but the Legislature never decided how exactly that would be generated.

    In his budget proposal for next year, Gov. Tom Wolf left another $150 million open for gambling money, while a House GOP plan also requires some additional revenue.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.