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Pa. to explore online gaming - abc27 WHTM

Pa. to explore online gaming

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Imagine the thrill of casino gambling, without having to visit a casino.

It's called online gaming, and it could be coming to a living room near you.

The concept took a small, procedural step on Tuesday when a Senate committee agreed to conduct a broader study of gaming in Pennsylvania that will include a closer look at Internet gambling. It still must pass the full senate, which is expected.

Call Pennsylvania's study an attempt to keep up with the Jersey's.

Online gaming recently became reality in New Jersey.

"With New Jersey doing internet gaming, and I believe the main intent was to get customers back from Pennsylvania, we need to be a bit more aware of where we want to head with gaming," said Senator Joe Scarnati - (R) Senate Pro Tempore. "And what we want to do is keep those customers."

Scarnati authored Senate Resolution 273, which calls for "the study of the current condition and future viability of gaming in the Commonwealth."

Pennsylvania has hit the jackpot since the first casino opened in 2006.

Nearly $14 billion has been generated by gamblers. The state, with its 55% tax rate, has raked in nearly $8 billion. It's certainly fair to say the Commonwealth is now addicted to gambling.

"It feeds our coffers in the state," said Senator Kim Ward - (R) Westmoreland. "It indeed feeds our coffers so I think it's important that gambling is successful and healthy."

In the past six years, Pennsylvania has legalized slots casinos, expanded to table games in casinos, expanded the lottery offerings, and recently legalized small games of chance in bars and taverns.

Critics, like Senator Rob Teplitz - (D) Dauphin-York - worry it's too much gambling, too fast.

"We're not creating any new money," Teplitz said. "We're just moving it around and moving it from, in many cases, many vulnerable sections of our community who can't afford to lose that money. Now, being able to lose it in the luxury of your own home concerns me."

The Senate's Resolution only calls on a study, for now. There are still many questions to be answered.

"What's the scope of it? How do we define what is online gaming? Where should it be housed at?" asks Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa - (D) Allegheny. "And who should be responsible? My personal view is it should go through the Gaming Control Board, because it's an expansion of some type of gaming."

But the projected deficit in next year's state budget is also expanding, an estimated $1.2 billion. The smart money suggests lawmakers will make online gaming a priority out of economic necessity.

"Currently it's an illegal activity that's taking place in the Commonwealth," Scarnati said. "Everybody knows it's taking place. Everybody knows how it takes place. So either we put our arms around this and figure out how to legalize this because, once again, it would be another revenue source. I'm certain somebody out of 253 members of the General Assembly are gonna put that proposal out there."

Senator Ward is the Chairwoman of the Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee that passed SR 273 and oversees gaming in that chamber. What does her gut tell her about the future of internet gaming?

"My gut says we'll be starting to work on that soon."

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