Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, has called on officials from Pennsylvania’s 12 gambling concerns to meet in the Capital soon after the holidays. The senator says changes are needed in the state’s gambling laws and she plans to tackle the problem head on and as early as possible – the day lawmakers are sworn in for a new two-year term.

In September the state Supreme Court tossed a requirement that casinos must pay their host communities tens of millions of dollars a year, saying it was unfair to smaller casinos, such as Mount Airy who brought the suit. Many casinos have crafted agreements to keep the payments coming, but lawmakers want a legal framework for the payments to continue. Ward also wants the revenues to go to counties that don’t have casinos, such as hers.

The high court delayed implementing its decision to give the state time to replace the revenues. That grace period expires in late January. The first payments are due in April but bills to replace the law faltered in the 2006 session.

According to American Gaming Association numbers reported in the Indiana Gazette, in the last ten years, the PA gaming industry has risen to become the number one state in the country for tax revenue and number two in consumer spending related to casinos.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board counts over $140 million in game revenues paid to cities and counties over the last fiscal year.

Some lawmakers want to tap the potential online gaming market in the state and many casino operators agree it’s a good idea. Several bills have passed committee or one of the chambers only to be stalled in another.

Several local and national outlets are also reporting that Rep. Michael Sturla, D-Lancaster is drafting legislation to increase by 30,000 to 40,000 the number of slot machines allowed in the state with the new devices to be located in fraternal clubs and bars. Sturla says that move would increase state revenues by tens of millions of dollars and would simply bring machines already operating illegally in the state under the law.

According to the legislator, casinos shouldn’t worry about the machines cannibalizing their revenues and the state lottery stands to lose nothing as well. “Since they already exist, nobody can say that will eat into the lottery, because it won’t, and nobody can say that will eat into casinos, because it won’t,” Sturla said.

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