Pa. video poker bill on fast track

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HARRISBURG -- Efforts to legalize thousands of video poker machines to generate tuition relief funds for certain college students are on the fast track.

Rep. Katie True, R-Lancaster, said today she's been getting a lot of calls from students and parents inquiring when the tuition relief funds would be available.

"Many students expect tuition relief for this fall," she told state Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak at a budget hearing.

Gov. Ed Rendell, who came up with the idea, has talked about having some tuition relief money available by fall.

To have money available that soon, she said, "We would have to start action next week."

Mr. Zahorchak said he will submit a draft of the video poker bill to legislators next week. He said that if they approve the idea relatively soon, about $124 million in tuition relief could be generated from video poker machines by the fall semester.

Ultimately, the governor is hoping for $550 million to be produced by the video poker tax -- if the 18,000 or so bars, taverns and clubs in the state each add up to five poker machines, as allowed under the proposal.

Implementing the proposed video poker machine plan would be overseen by three state agencies, the Education Department, state police and the Revenue Department. All the machines would be connected to a Revenue Department computer to make sure the state is getting its 50 percent share of revenue. State police would make sure bars aren't still using illegal poker machines, as many are now doing.

The tuition relief money would be distributed by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency based on family income. PHEAA already gives out millions each year in tuition grants and loans.

Under the Rendell plan, only students going to the 14 community colleges in the state or to the 14 colleges in the State System of Higher Education would be eligible for the tuition relief. This has upset other universities, such as the University of Pittsburgh.


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