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Pennsylvania approves slot machines at tracks, casinos

 


Pennsylvania approves slot machines at tracks, casinos

 

July 7, 2004                                                                

 

By Jackie Campbell*

 

PITTSBURGH (UMNS)—In about a year, Pennsylvania will have more slot machines than any other state except Nevada, according to a new law allowing up to 61,000 machines at 14 sites in the commonwealth.

Gov. Ed Rendell, who has pushed for gambling expansion as a way to provide property tax relief and increase state funds for education, signed the bill July 5 at Philadelphia Park, the home race track of Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones.

The law guarantees seven race-track casinos, with four at existing tracks, two at future tracks in Erie and the Philadelphia area and one at an unnamed harness track. Two stand-alone casinos will be in Philadelphia, one in Pittsburgh and two at undetermined locations. Casinos also will be allowed at two hotels, which must have at least 275 rooms.

Each race track and stand-alone casino can have up to 5,000 slot machines. The hotel casinos are allowed no more than 500 machines.

The law was passed despite efforts of United Methodists and other Protestant groups to convince the legislature that gambling expansion is detrimental to society and a bad way to finance government. The lobbying efforts have been intense since both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed bills last summer allowing slots at race tracks but were unable to reach agreement on other aspects of the legislation.

The United Methodist Church officially opposes gambling in all forms. The denomination’s Social Principles call gambling “a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic and spiritual life, and destructive of good government.” The church urges Christians to abstain from gambling and to “minister to those victimized by the practice.”

Late this June, Pennsylvania leaders agreed to a compromise as work was concluding on a state budget. The budget passed without debate after the gambling legislation was approved.

The Senate passed the compromise legislation by a 30-20 vote at 2:30 a.m., July 2, after six hours of debate, over protests from some Republicans who predicted an increase in organized crime influence and gambling addiction. All Senate Democrats and nine Republicans voted for the compromise proposal.

House Republicans wouldn’t allow a vote on the slots measure until the Senate also sent a bill guaranteeing where the state’s share of the proceeds would go. When the bill with the formula arrived, the House debated nine hours before passing both measures at about 3 a.m. on July 4.

“Tonight the people of Pennsylvania are true winners,” Rendell said after passage of the law. “Starting now, we begin the long overdue process of recapturing billions of dollars in lost revenue, creating thousands of jobs, dramatically contributing to the future of the horse racing industry and finally returning millions of dollars in the form of lower property and wage taxes for the citizens of Pennsylvania.”

He said the law enables $1 billion in property and wage tax relief, claiming an average reduction of $333 per homeowner.

Casino owners will get 48 percent of the revenue from the slots. Thirty-four percent goes to the state for property-tax reductions, about 9 percent goes to the state’s equine industry, 5 percent will go to public projects and 4 percent will be split between counties and local governments that host slots parlors.

 

*Campbell is a staff writer for the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.

 

·(646)369-3759·New York· E-mail: newsdesk@umcom.org.

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