Bizzarro: Gaming expansion bill no friend to Erie County

HARRISBURG, Oct. 26 – State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, today criticized a 939-page gambling-expansion bill rushed through the legislature during a reckless bid to fund the state’s 2017-18 state budget.

“It’s painfully clear that there are winners and losers in the measure, including special carve-outs for a select few and items that just don’t make sense,” said Bizzarro, explaining his vote against H.B. 271. “Unfortunately, Erie was not one of the winners.

“Although I agree with – and support – many aspects of the bill pertaining to the expansion of certain types of gaming, I cannot in good conscience support a bill that wasn’t properly advanced or vetted and consequently puts at risk the future of our local share dollars from casino revenues.”

Bizzarro said the budget-linked bill, which now heads to the governor for consideration, wasn’t presented to House members until Wednesday night, and the details gleaned from the measure before Thursday morning’s vote do not portend well for the Erie area.

“I fear the way gambling was expanded – calling for video gaming terminals at truck stops, gas stations and convenience stores selling diesel – will harm gaming revenues and local share dollars derived from Presque Isle Downs & Casino,” Bizzarro said. “It also will negatively affect the state lottery and its valuable programs that benefit older Pennsylvanians.”

Bizzarro said guidelines were too haphazardly defined and would enable the VGTs to be placed in truck stops, gas stations and convenience stores sited on 3-acre properties and selling, or potentially selling, 50,000 gallons of diesel for commercial concerns annually.

“The legislation represents major changes to the fabric of the state,” Bizzarro said. “Such a seismic change should not come without due consideration and deliberation, including public hearings.

“I voted against the $32 billion spending plan approved almost four months ago because it is foolish to spend without a plan to pay for it,” Bizzarro said. “Now, this rash expansion of gambling shows how ridiculous the budget process is in the commonwealth.”

Specific changes to Erie County and Presque Isle Downs & Casino under H.B. 271, as amended in the Senate, direct that the 1 percent of local share revenues now allocated for municipal grants is changed to provide $1 million annually to a land bank established by the county.

Under the measure, the revenues would go to the county redevelopment authority until land bank is established, and remaining funds would continue to go to Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority.

Bizzarro said ECGRA, which he said has previously strayed from its mission and responsibilities concerning gaming revenues, would be required to:

-- Post all expenses on its website;

-- Not use gaming revenues to pay for educational expenses of officers or employees;

-- Disclose that all spent revenues are derived from casino revenue; and

-- Be audited by the state Department of the Auditor General.

“The budget process, and especially this gaming bill, are not among state government’s shining moments,” said Bizzarro after the 109-72 House vote to approve H.B. 271. “We now possibly have a state budget and seemingly the means to pay for it, but a legislative consensus does not denote competence.”