October 26, 2015

House Gaming Oversight Committee Weighs Airport Slots Plan

The House Gaming Oversight Committee held a public hearing at Harrisburg International Airport to review House Bill 1408 (Kotik-D-Allegheny)  that would authorize certain Pennsylvania airports to host slot machines within specific boundaries.
House Bill 1408 would apply to six international airports in the state: Erie International Airport, Harrisburg International Airport, Lehigh Valley International Airport, Philadelphia International Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport and Wilkes-Barre\Scranton International Airport.
"The concept came to me when I saw my wife playing a slot machine in the airport in Las Vegas," Rep. Nick Kotik, Minority Chair of the Committee, said. "In order for airports to stay viable, Pittsburgh in particular, I put the concept on paper and here we are today looking further into this revenue-generating plan.
"Pittsburgh's airport, like some others in the state have fallen on tough times and I see this as a way of bringing additional funding back to them to address their revenue needs."
Under Rep.Kotik's bill, a portion of the revenue generated from the slot machines would be distributed to the host airport for revitalization projects. An additional portion would be allocated to help incentivize local municipalities to better consolidate services and personnel.  
Currently, there are only two airports in the nation that permit the operation of slot machines, both located in Nevada – McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Reno.
Rep. Kotik added that several states across the country, including New York, Maryland, Illinois, Florida and Hawaii, have started to explore plans to legalize the operation of slot machines in airports.
"Giving Pennsylvania airports the option to add slot machines is just one of several revenue-generating measures the committee is looking at as an alternative to raising taxes," said Rep. John Payne (R-Dauphin), Majority Chair of the Committee. "It’s an added entertainment feature for customers that would not only benefit our state tremendously, but would help our airports continue to play a positive role in local economic development."
The bill would authorize slot machines to be installed only in secure areas within qualifying airports. Specifically, they would be located after Transportation Security Administration checkpoints.
"I see this as a no-threat plan to existing casinos. Only ticketed passengers who are beyond security, who are obviously there to board a plane would be able to use the machines – we're dealing with a captive audience," said Rep. Kotik. "Overall, I see this as a natural extension of gaming in this state and an extra amenity for airports to offer."
Rep. Kotik added that if signed into law, Pennsylvania's six international airports would not be mandated to offer slot machines but could opt-in under the law.
Hearing testifiers included: Timothy Edwards, executive director, Harrisburg International Airport; Sean Sullivan, vice president and general manager, Meadows Casino and Racetrack; R. Doug Sherman, chief counsel, Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board; and, Randall Walker, former director of McCarren International Airport in Las Vegas.
To date, this was the first committee action on the bill, which has received support by both Democratic and Republican legislators.
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