Senators want Pa. Lottery stopped at online games

Jan 23, 2013 9:26 AM

The state’s top Republican senators have asked Gov. Tom Corbett to make it clear that the Pennsylvania Lottery cannot compete with casinos through online gambling, and they warned that they may pursue legislation to cement that prohibition.

For months, casino owners have been quiet about Corbett’s politically charged plans to allow the scope of lottery gambling to expand in Pennsylvania under the guidance of a private management firm.

But the senators, including President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County and Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi of Delaware County, now say they want the private manager’s contract rewritten to prohibit interactive video games or simulated slot machines or table games, even if there are no plans for such games.

Camelot has been vague about its plans to introduce online access to lottery games, and the agreement caps the number of keno outlets, such as bars and restaurants, at 3,000. Keno is a number-picking game in which players are able to participate every few minutes by filling out a card and watching numbers on a video monitor.

The worry, Scarnati said in an interview Tuesday, is the “bleeding into casino-land gambling.”

The senators are waiting to see the administration’s response before they begin to draft legislation, Scarnati said. They also need more information about Camelot’s plans and the guidelines the Corbett administration has set for the firm, Scarnati said.

“There is a concern that the contract would allow Camelot Gaming or its subcontractors to expand the lottery from what is generally considered to be ‘keno’ and provide unlimited types of Internet and monitor-based interactive games,” the senators wrote. “Not only is this a broader expansion of gambling than has been described, but these games will directly compete against our highly regulated casinos.”

Last week, the Corbett administration finalized a 20- to 30-year contract with British lottery operator Camelot Global Services to manage the state-owned lottery.

The governor’s office did not say Tuesday whether Corbett, a Republican, would seek to rewrite the contract with Camelot. In a statement, it said he is committed to a cautious approach to the introduction of any new games that are legally allowed.

“We are confident that Camelot shares the same commitment,” the administration said.

It also said Camelot’s management agreement does not include video poker, video poker-like games or video lottery terminals.

The deal has drawn heavy criticism from Democratic lawmakers, a lawsuit from the union that represents state lottery employees and a warning from Democratic state Treasurer Rob McCord that he may not approve payments to Camelot if he is not convinced that its plans to expand gambling are legal.

In their letter delivered to Corbett’s office last week, the senators said their concerns escalated after watching testimony at a Jan. 14 Senate Finance Committee hearing on the matter and reading through recently released documents about the management agreement with Camelot.

Also signing the letter were Majority Whip Pat Browne of Lehigh County and Sens. Robert Tomlinson of Bucks County and Kim Ward of Westmoreland County.

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