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Pittsburghers spent more than 18 percent more on local casino table games this year over last, according to new figures released by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

The possibility of legalizing new forms of gambling in Pennsylvania has been a low-priority debate among state legislators for at least a year.

The effort is getting more attention now as Republican state lawmakers search for ways to fill a budget gap without ceding to the kind of tax increases supported by Governor Tom Wolf.

Wolf has said he would consider a gambling expansion.

Despite a bump in December, Pennsylvania’s slot machine revenues were down nearly 3 percent in 2014.

According to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, nearly all of the state’s 12 casinos experienced growth in slot revenue last month, with the exception of Rivers Casino, which saw a .16 percent drop in revenue compared to December 2013.

State lawmakers are toying with the idea of allowing online bets as a way to boost state tax revenue.

Making online gambling legal could yield $68 million its first year for the state, and $110 million annually in later years. That’s according to policy consultants who assessed Pennsylvania’s gambling landscape for the state Legislature.

State lawmakers may be skittish about bridging budget gaps with any more expansions of gambling, due to a so-far failed attempt to bring in big bucks from tavern gambling.

Late last year, as state coffers were looking empty, lawmakers floated ideas of expanding gambling to fill shortfalls.

What if you threw a gambling party and nobody came? State lawmakers are nervous they’re about to find out.

Small games of chance were legalized in Pennsylvania bars and taverns last fall, and the licensing process began in late January. But applications for licenses aren’t rolling in.

Only six of the 16,000 eligible bars and taverns in Pennsylvania have applied to offer games like raffles and drawings in their establishments. The stakes are high — lawmakers were hoping tens of millions of dollars from barroom gambling would help balance the state budget.

Applications are now being accepted for new the new Tavern Gaming License, made possible by Act 90. The law allows certain liquor licensees, such as bars and taverns, to operate small games of chance

“The new law is very specific,” said PLCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedman. “It allows pull-tab games, daily drawing and tavern raffles, games that must be, in part, for a charitable or public purpose.”

Revenue from Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos dipped 1.4 percent in 2013 to $3.1 billion. That’s the first time the industry has experienced an overall decline in revenue since casino play began in 2006.

“We saw a little up, we saw a little down,” said Doug Harbach, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. “Table games continue to be a growing segment. We saw their revenue go up around 6 percent. A slight decrease in slot machines, but that’s not unexpected.”

The state Senate is calling for a legislative study of gambling in Pennsylvania.

The request is coming from Republican Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County.

"The resolution came about as we continue to watch our gaming revenues go flat and in some instances decline month of over month from last year."

Scarnati says he’s watched warily as neighboring states introduce and expand gambling, increasing the regional competition for dollars.

Small Games to Expand to Bars in PA

Nov 27, 2013

Supporters of compromise legislation that expands small games of chance in Pennsylvania believe everyone is a winner, including the state’s coffers.

Gov. Tom Corbett Wednesday signed legislation that eases reporting requirements by private clubs — such as Elks and Moose Lodges, VFWs, American Legion Halls and fire departments — but now permits taverns to operate small games of chance including raffles and pull-tabs.

A proposal to legalize small-time gambling in bars has cleared the state House and will go back to the Senate for approval.
The measure would allow thousands of bars and taverns to offer small games of chance, like raffles and drawings.
The state would get 60 percent of revenue, and the hosting municipality would get a five percent cut.
The hosting bars and taverns would keep the rest.

Pennsylvania casinos experienced their first drop in slot machine gross revenue this fiscal year since the lucky 7’s started spinning in 2006.

Despite the nearly 2 percent drop in gross revenue, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board reports gamblers spent more than $2.4 billion for the second straight fiscal year.

In the 2012-13 fiscal year ending June 30, slot machine revenue from the 11 Pennsylvania casinos totaled $2,428,840,653 — down from the $2,476,755,316 brought in last fiscal year.

Alan Alfaro/Flickr

Pennsylvanians and tourists pulled the slots levers fewer times last month than in February of 2012, according to a report from the state’s Gaming Control Board.

Of the ten Pennsylvania casinos operating in both months, revenue was 11.5% lower this year. Even counting a casino that opened last March, Valley Forge Casino Resort, the state’s income fell 9.2% to $196 million.

Gaming Control Board spokesman Richard McGarvey said the decrease probably resulted from a few contributing factors.