In a scramble to find cash just days from the state budget deadline, the Pennsylvania House backed a measure Wednesday to expand legalized gambling to the internet and airports, but rejected a more sweeping expansion of casino-style gambling to bars.
The measure passed, 115-80, in a preliminary vote. It would allow the state’s casinos to bring their games to websites, Pennsylvania’s six international airports and its 10 licensed off-track betting parlors. Gamblers would potentially be able to play on mobile devices in the airports, as well as actual slot machines.
The measure also would regulate daily fantasy sports betting and allow sports betting, should it become legal under federal law. Pennsylvania would join Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey as the only states to legalize internet gambling.
A final vote is possible as early as Thursday, in an 11th-hour attempt at scrounging up cash to help balance the deficit-plagued budget just seven days from the fiscal-year deadline.
But the bill’s prospects are unclear in the Senate, and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s support was conditioned on the legislation being part of a wider budget agreement with lawmakers.
An earlier House vote Wednesday to also authorize slot-machine-style gambling in thousands of bars, fraternal clubs and truck stops failed by 37 votes.
Much of the debate revolved around the authorization of the machines, called video gaming terminals, or VGTs, in bars. Supporters said it would raise about $243 million in the first year, and they cast it as a decision between that or raising the personal income tax.
“It’s June 22 everybody, we’re working on a budget,” Rep. Chris Sainato, R-Lawrence, told colleagues during floor debate. “Whether you know it or not, we need revenue. ... I think it’s coming to this, people: VGT versus PIT. Let me tell you, I will support VGT. I will not support PIT.”
With the defeat of the provision allowing video gaming terminals, supporters said the remaining provisions would raise up to $270 million in license fees and taxes. A casino license to bring gambling to the internet would cost $8 million.
The prospect of gambling in bars brought resistance from critics who said it would damage property tax subsidies funded by casino gambling and programs for the elderly that are funded by state lottery sales.
Casinos had lobbied heavily against it, and it was opposed by county-level agencies that use lottery revenue to fund programs for the elderly.
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