Pa. House passes final budget piece; ball moves to Wolf’s court

A person plays a slot on a touch-screen tablet

An employee at Resorts Casino Hotel tries a touch-screen tablet (Wayne Parry/AP Photo, file)

Pennsylvania’s state House has sent a gambling expansion bill to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk — effectively finishing the budget lawmakers have labored over this entire fiscal year, four months past the due date.

The long, complex measure prompted hours of debate over the course of two days.

It significantly broadens Pennsylvania’s 13-year-old gaming industry.

Gambling in airports and over the internet will now be legal. Truck stops across the commonwealth will be able to install video gaming terminals — or VGTs — and up to 10 new miniature casinos are authorized.

Lawmakers have repeatedly failed to pass similar bills in recent years.

VGTs were one of the biggest stumbling blocks; senators got over their longtime aversion to the idea by including provisions that let counties ban the terminals. Municipalities can also opt not to allow mini casinos.

Counties and municipalities will have roughly 15 days after the bill passes to make those decisions.

During intense floor discussion, lawmakers noted the expansion won’t affect the $2.2 billion budget gap much. It’s projected to raise around $200 million its first year, and less than half of that subsequently.

But House Majority Leader Dave Reed said it had to be done — noting that, in almost every other aspect, revenues from this budget bill are just one-time plugs.

“Some of the funding from this year won’t be there next year, so we wanted to try to look toward next year,” he said. “The gaming revenue has that possibility of becoming the recurring revenue that comes in — not just a one-time shot.”

It’s now up to Wolf to sign the budget, which includes $1.5 billion in borrowing and hundreds of millions in fund transfers.

He said in a statement that he still has to evaluate it — though added he will sign bills to fund state-related universities.

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