Online Poker, Gambling Revenue Being Counted On To Fund PA Budget

Online Gambling Regulation Included In House Version Of Pennsylvania Budget

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Online gambling legalization and regulation is a part of at least one version of an overarching budget bill in Pennsylvania.

Things are moving quickly in Pennsylvania

After a budget standoff that started back in July had seen little movement in months, politicians in Pennsylvania started making progress toward a budget framework in November and made tangible progress on Monday.

That progress was visible when the state Senate passed a budget bill, 43-7. That bill, however, only dealt with expenditures; revenue was not addressed, and the tax package funding it is to be determined. That bill reportedly has the support of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. 

The House, however, is working on passing its own version of the budget. The House version would reportedly be funded partially by online gaming expansion, per Penn Live:

The Republicans would pay for their plan, according to the Democratic analysis, with $120 million generated by online gaming; $150 million in tobacco taxes and $24 million in one-time online gaming license fees. The GOP funding plan also calls the legalization of slot machines at off-track betting parlors and airports.

The House bill passed an Appropriations Committee vote on Monday, and could be voted on by the full House on Tuesday. The bill reportedly contains about half a billion dollars less in terms of expenditures than the Senate version.

Did HB 649 make it into the budget?

The exact content of the House budget bill is unknown, but clearly at least portions of an earlier gaming bill are a part of the House revenue framework.

How much of the language from a bill that recently passed a committee vote (HB 649) made it into the budget — or if it was a direct port — is unknown. That bill, which started as an online gaming-only bill, morphed into a gigantic piece of gaming expansion legislation.

The Penn Live revenue assessments seemed to be in line with the most recent language in HB 649, which called for $8 million licensing fees to be paid in order to offer online gaming (3 x $8 million = $24 million). The $120 million revenue figure would be in line with estimates associated with HB 649 as well.

The House budget may include problematic gaming amendments like video lottery terminals that could sink it in Senate, according to a source with knowledge of budget negotiations.

Will the Senate fund its budget with online gambling?

There is not yet any sense of how the Senate wants to proceed from a revenue standpoint, as least as it concerns online gambling.

The Senate has not considered online gambling since June, and HB 649, as a standalone bill, is still in the House.

However, considering the fact that the Senate bill contains considerably more in expenditures than the House version, it seems difficult to believe online gambling would immediately end up on the scrap heap in the Senate.

The path forward for online gambling

Clearly, all parties need to get on the same page for online gambling to have a legitimate shot of making it into the final budget. The House bill reportedly passed the Appropriations Committee along partisan lines, while the Senate expenditures bill that passed the full chamber enjoyed bipartisan support.

The fact that online gambling is being relied upon to fund any version of the budget being considered by lawmakers has to be seen as a positive sign for its chances.

- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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