Pennsylvania Internet Gambling In Limbo As Budget Deadline Approaches

An online gambling bill in Pennsylvania remains in limbo as a deadline for the state budget looms and an impasse between Gov. Tom Wolf and Republicans in the legislature is unresolved.

The latest on hopes for online poker

Since a Senate hearing in the Community, Economic, and Recreational Development Committee held earlier this month, there’s been little to report in terms of progress for any of the five proposed bills in Pennsylvania that would regulate internet gambling.

The online gambling bill, though, is just one of the moving parts as Pennsylvania attempts to pass a budget to fund the state government. The budget has a soft deadline of Tuesday. Republicans have passed a budget bill in the house, and a vote is expected on Tuesday in the heavily Republican senate. The budget does not currently contain new provisions concerning online gambling.

Despite Republicans moving forward on a budget, the bill appears headed to a veto if it reaches Wolf’s desk. The Democratic governor and Republicans are split on many of the issues in the budget, as the two sides try to find away to trim a deficit that is in excess of $1 billion and could reach $2 billion in future years, without action by the government.

Here is what we do know about the online gambling bill, right now:

  • Seven of the state’s casinos came out in opposition to parts of SB900 — sponsored by CERD chair Kim Ward — last week. The casinos — including large and small establishments — signed a letter taking issue with many parts of the the bill, including a proposed 54 percent tax rate on online gambling.
  • After the hearing, Ward didn’t sound very optimistic about the chances of her bill being passed in the current legislative session. While Pennsylvania’s regulators were bullish on their ability to deal with online gambling, senators on the CERD committee seemed more on the fence about the prospect of the state offering internet gambling.
  • All of the hearings remaining in the Gaming Oversight Committee in the House of Representatives have been canceled, including one on Friday and three this week. That means that the bill from Rep. John Payne appears to be done for this legislative session.

The last of those points is perhaps the most interesting, as it appears to point to the idea that the Senate gambling bill has life. Payne is the chair of the House Gaming Oversight committee, so it would seem unlikely that he would shelve his bill if the senate version didn’t have a chance of making progress. Whether that is fact or speculation remains to be seen.

Can online gambling be a point of compromise?

Right now, online gambling seems to be one of the least contentious issues up for debate. However, other parts of Ward’s overarching gaming bill are, including the issue of allowing slots at off-track betting facilities and the possibility of adding video-style gaming at bars.

But as Wolf and Republicans appear to have trouble finding middle ground, it seems like many interests are behind online gambling of some sort in the state. If the Republican bill will not pass as-is — without an online gambling component — then it’s possible a gaming bill could find new life in a future iteration of the budget as Democrats and Republicans try to find a way to lower the state deficit. And Wolf would like to increase spending for education, while not causing property taxes to rise; the best way to do that is by adding new revenue streams..

Online gambling — on paper — looks like one of the best options for creating revenue for a state badly in need of it. Whether lawmakers agree with that sentiment remains to be seen.

Photo by Kat used under license CC BY-SA 2.0.