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Pennsylvania - Is a Reading casino a good bet?

Reading Mayor Wally Scott understands why some don't like the idea of people gambling away their money in a casino in the city.

But as Scott sees it, it's already very easy to gamble in Pennsylvania, whether it's buying lottery tickets at a grocery store, playing church-run bingo or trying small games of chance in a social club.

So if people want to play slot machines or roulette in a casino, he'd prefer they do it in Reading.

"People are either going to spend their money here or somewhere else," he said. "We can't afford to lose that opportunity. We can use the help."

The city owns five buildings near Fifth and Penn streets, which Scott would like to sell to a developer looking to open a casino downtown, replacing one of them with a parking garage, he said.

City Council is expected to vote on the matter Monday.

While Scott favors a casino, others have mixed opinions. 

Municipal officials across Berks and Pennsylvania are weighing the pros and cons of casinos since Gov. Tom Wolf on Oct. 30 signed into law a measure to allow 10 new satellite casinos statewide as a way to cover the state's budget deficit.

At Monday's City Council meeting, council members and Scott's administration said they would welcome one of these facilities.

Pennsylvania's more than 2,500 municipalities have until Dec. 31 to pass resolutions to ban casinos within their borders.

Otherwise, those developers bidding for casino licenses can propose to open them in municipalities that haven't passed such resolutions, though there are rules to restrict them from being built too close to the state's 12 existing casinos.

Satellite casinos could have 300 to 750 slot machines and up to 30 table games to begin and potentially add another 10 table games after a year. 

The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance sees the potential benefits of a casino, which include local taxes that the state Office of the Budget estimates will total between $2 million and $4 million a year for host municipalities when the facility is fully operational, a figure that would be capped at 50 percent of the municipality's budget.

In Reading, the 2018 budget is $92.6 million, so the cap would not be an issue.

Host counties would also receive a share of taxes, with the majority going to the state.

Scott said he's gotten good feedback from people in the city regarding his interest in a casino.

"I haven't heard one negative comment," he said. "I understand that gambling is a vice, but we all have vices. I don't think the city should be regulating that."

Read the full story from  MIKE URBAN at THE READING EAGLE