PHILADELPHIA-- Pennsylvania lawmakers may have hit a jackpot of sorts under a new state law that legalizes slot machines and allows legislators to own a portion of gambling parlors.
Under a bill signed into law Monday by Governor Ed Rendell, individual lawmakers are permitted to own up to 1 percent of each of the 14 slot-machine parlors planned in the state.
The new law will give Pennsylvania more slot machines -- up to 61,000 -- than any state except Nevada. They are expected to generate a total of $3 billion annually.
Critics have said that the 1 percent rule could lead to conflicts of interest or at least the appearance of a conflict, if not outright corruption.
Republican state Senator Robert M. Tomlinson argued that the charge is unfounded. ''I think this is just an attempt by the people who are opposed to this to try to stir up more trouble for it," he said yesterday.
Critics argue the Pennsylvania law is flawed because it only addresses ownership of ''securities" of gaming companies, meaning that a lawmaker could directly own all or part of a gaming parlor.
''The anticorruption safeguards don't have teeth. They are merely dentures, easily removed and worked around," said Republican state Representantive John Maher, a certified public accountant who voted against the bill.
The bill's authors have argued that the 1 percent provision was needed so that lawmakers could own mutual funds or pension funds that invest in publicly traded gaming companies without having to worry about the law.
The new law does ban campaign contributions from gambling licensees to any state or local candidate in Pennsylvania, requires slot operators to undergo background checks, and prohibits members of the seven-member Pennsylvania Gaming Board from working for a gaming company for one year after leaving office.
''We really believe that our new law is the single toughest regulatory statute in the country of any state that has gambling," said Gary Tuma, spokesman for Democratic state Senator Vincent Fumo.
In Nevada and West Virginia, for example, there are no restrictions on public officials owning gaming companies.