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Friday, February 20, 2009
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Rendell mulls video poker revenue
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BY ROBERT SWIFT
Published: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 4:11 AM ESTHARRISBURG — Video poker machines would see the legal light of day under a new Rendell administration plan to help families pay college costs.
The proposal would legalize video poker machines in bars, taverns, restaurants and private clubs with liquor licenses. The move would end decades of a shadowy, illegal existence for that form of gambling. If enacted, this law would mark the second major expansion of legalized gambling in Pennsylvania in five years, following the 2004 vote to legalize slots casinos.
The administration wants to use millions of dollars of anticipated video poker revenue to help students attending the 14 state-owned universities, including Bloomsburg and East Stroudsburg in Northeast Pennsylvania, and community colleges, starting this fall if state lawmakers approve.
Officials say an expansion of tuition aid is needed to help students and families cope with job layoffs and stock market losses in recent months.
The plan, outlined prior to Gov. Ed Rendell’s annual budget address today, would target students whose family income is less than $100,000. They would be eligible for up to $7,600 annually for tuition, books, fees and room and board.
“Legalizing this form of entertainment will generate more than half a billion dollars annually to support the tuition relief plan,” said acting state Revenue Secretary Stephen Stetler.
Each licensed establishment would be able to install up to five machines. There are some 11,000 bars and restaurants and 3,000 private social clubs with liquor licenses in Pennsylvania.
Under the proposal, the Revenue Department would issue licenses to establishments as well as machine manufacturing and distribution licenses to companies. The state would tax 50 percent of net profits from the video poker machines.
State Police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski took a practical view of the proposal, saying it would enable the state to obtain revenue from an estimated 17,000 video poker machines being operated illegally.
The proposal is offered against a backdrop where bars and taverns want help to offset the loss of customers from the state indoor smoking ban, tough drunk driving laws and competition from the slots casinos.
“With the economy, the smoking ban and the .08 percent blood alcohol limit, we need this to exist,” said Amy Christie, director of the Pennsylvania Tavern Association.
While Republican senators favor expanding tuition aid, they are leery of underwriting it with video-poker revenue.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
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