Slots Bills Up For Debate in Pennsylvania Legislature

A pivotal week for slot-machine legislation in Pennsylvania is ahead as the Senate is expected to debate a plan to legalize the devices at the state's racetracks, possibly May 12-13. Supporters of slots are planning to "leapfrog" a potentially hostile committee vote by putting the legislation on the floor as an amendment to another bill, according to the Associated Press.

One piece of slots legislation, sponsored by Republican Sen. Robert Tomlinson, whose home district is in Bucks County, where Philadelphia Park is located, has been through three hearings before the Senate Finance Committee, but the panel's chairwoman, Sen. Jane Earll, said it was unlikely the bill would get the votes to pass the 11-member panel.

Tomlinson's bill is expected to be reworked as an amendment to a separate bill. Quick passage of the bill would ensure lawmakers they would have slots revenuebefore the next fiscal year begins July 1.

Rendell, who wants a slots measure passed before the end of June, hasn't publicly endorsed Tomlinson's bill, which would give Pennsylvania horsemen 16 percent of revenues for purses but doesn't include live racing protection or provide funds for a backstretch benevolence program.

Rendell said he is also open to other forms of gambling, including casinos in major cities such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and riverboat gambling.

To that end, Republican House Speaker John Perzel said the plan to put slots at tracks doesn't go far enough. The real revenue jackpot, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, is in casinos, including entertainment parlors and upscale shops.

"If this is about making money, we ought to just go out and make the money," Perzel said.

Perzel said "going for broke" with casinos will head off a full-blown gambling "arms race" between Pennsylvania and neighboring states.

While Rendell believes the votes to pass a slots measure are there in the Senate, he doesn't think passage will be easy. "I think the votes are there in the Senate as a whole," he said. "It's not going to be easy. This is a case where the Senate is, in my judgment, hesitant because of a vociferous minority."

In addition, some lawmakers are planning to make amendments to Tomlinson's bill. Sen. Vincent Fumo, a Philadelphia Democrat, plans an amendment to cap campaign contributions from racetrack owners and employees, which would prevent them from wielding great political power with their newfound wealth.

Meanwhile, at Philadelphia Park, groundbreaking is expected to take place the week of May 19 in the front parking lot for a 149,000-square-foot temporary structure that would house the slots until a permanent building is completed.