Rendell: Legalize video poker to pay for college

HARRISBURG — The Rendell administration wants to legalize video poker in bars and social clubs to help Pennsylvania families pay for college.

Tuition relief would start this fall for incoming freshmen and reach nearly $550 million by the time the program is fully in place, according to administration officials who estimate that 170,000 students could receive aid.

“Everyone would pay something, but only what they can afford. This plan would make college more affordable for the majority of Pennsylvanians,” said state Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak. “A family that earns $45,000 a year will save 77 percent if they send their child to a State System university, and will pay 15 percent less if they enroll their child in a local community college.”

Aides say Gov. Rendell will ask the legislature to approve video poker legislation in his annual budget address tomorrow.

If approved, tuition relief would start this fall for families earning up to $100,000 a year who have students attending any of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges or the 14 public universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

Officials say the proposal would make simply make legal what is a widespread, underground activity, but opponents say there would be a high social cost.

“This is not an expansion of gaming — it is the recognition that video poker is already a thriving industry in Pennsylvania,” said Revenue Secretary Steve Stetler. “Legalizing this form of entertainment will generate more than half a billion dollars annually to support the tuition relief plan.

Proposals to legalize video poker have been floated for at least 25 years in Harrisburg. Supporters say the proposal stands a better chance of passage today with the advent of casino gaming more than five years ago.

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