Pennsylvania Slots Legislation Nearing Passage

The Pennsylvania legislature may be close to passing both a budget and slot machine legislation, perhaps by the end of the week of Dec. 15.

"There's a real possibility we'll pass gambling this week," said state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo in the Bucks County Courier Times. DiGirolamo's district includes Bensalem Township, where Philadelphia Park is located. "The hang-up is where the venues are going to be."

Key to the passage of the slots bill will be whether Senate Republicans will back down from their earlier opposition to 11 gambling venues in Pennsylvania: nine racetracks and a gambling "parlor" each for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Some legislators believe there are not enough votes to restrict the slot machines to racetracks only.

Meanwhile, a new contract between Philly Park and the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association is set to be "peacefully" negotiated soon, said Hal Handel, chief executive officer at the racetrack. The current contract expires Jan. 1.

When asked if passage of a slots bill would impact negotiations, Handel said: "No, I wouldn't expect passage of legislation, were that to occur, to in any way derail discussions with horsemen to reach an accord to continue live racing without interruption."

Handel said if a slots bill were to pass in the near term, "our intention remains to move as quickly as possible to open a first-rate facility assuming we are afforded a chance to do so."

The revenue slot machines are projected to bring in is integral to the budget Gov. Ed Rendell wants passed before the end of the year. According to the Times, it's estimated 11 gambling venues would, within two years, bring in between $600 million and $1 billion for property-tax reduction and for education.

DiGirolamo said he would vote for the 11 venues "if that's what it takes" to get the slots legislation passed. While a bill was almost passed in September, when the Senate approved gambling at eight racetracks, the House added three extra venues in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and Senate Republicans would not vote for it.

State Rep. Tony Melio said this time is different because legislators, desperate to pass a budget and not wanting to work Christmas Eve, have a lot more incentive. "This time, we can see school districts using their surplus money," he said. "Some schools have threatened to close their doors."