HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday signed legislation authorizing a major expansion of gambling in what’s already the nation’s second-largest commercial casino state, as Pennsylvania government leaders searched for money to plug holes in the state’s tattered finances.
Under the measure, the state will become the fourth state to allow offer online gambling, joining Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware. It also makes Pennsylvania the first state to allow online play for both commercial casinos and the state lottery, as both go in search of newer and younger players.
The new law also will give rise to more casino sites. State regulators will hold an auction allowing 10 of the state’s 12 existing casinos to bid on a license for a new, smaller casino with hundreds of slot machines. Bidding would start at $7.5 million, with a table games certificate costing an extra $2.5 million.
Meanwhile, casinos will be able to offer interactive gambling in airports while qualifying truck stops can to operate up to five slot machine-style monitors called video gaming terminals.
Lawmakers expect the gambling legislation to produce about $200 million or more annually from casino license fees and taxes on higher gambling losses.
Pennsylvania casinos rake in more gross revenues than any other state except Nevada. Pennsylvania is the No. 1 state in tax revenue from the casino industry, netting $1.4 billion in the most recent fiscal year.
The bill, a couple years in the making, emerged Wednesday night and won passage within 18 hours in both chambers of the Legislature despite opponents’ protests that they barely had a chance to read it, warnings that it carried unforeseen consequences and complaints that it was packed with sweetheart deals.
The gambling bill passed as part of a broader package designed to break a four-month budget stalemate between the Republican-controlled Legislature and the Democratic governor over how to overcome a projected $2.2 billion deficit. The compromise came together after House leaders dropped their long-standing demand that a gambling expansion favor bars and other liquor licensees, not casino owners.
Currently, the state’s larger casinos can operate up to 5,000 slot machines. The new, smaller casinos would initially be limited to 750 slots and 30 table games.