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Online gambling was being floated as one of many potential funding mechanisms for Pennsylvania’s yet-to-be-passed 2016 budget (the budget impasse has reached historic levels, as it’s now over five months past due). Those plans seemed to have stalled over the past week, as Representative John Payne’s office told Card Player’s Brian Pempus that online gambling would be put back on the shelf until the spring of 2016.
In addition to Representative Payne’s comments to Card Player, an article in Philly.com indicates that the legislature is prepping a number of budget-related bills as the impasse appears to be coming to an end.
However, the budget situation has been extremely fluid, as just last weekend Governor Tom Wolf believed he had struck an accord with House Republicans, only to see them walk away from the negotiating table. The good news is the budget has to be resolved, and resolved very soon, in order to stave off very deep cuts to crucial programs.
Because of the need to get a budget passed, I’m of the opinion that calling online gambling expansion dead for 2015 is a bit premature. As long as the budget is being negotiated, I don’t think the legislature or the governor is ready to take anything off the table. And I’m not the only person with this point of view:
Even though this is looking more and more like a long shot, the legislature could still include online gambling in the 2016 budget and pass a different online gambling expansion bill (several, including SB 900 were introduced over the course of 2015), or once again resurrect HB 649, in its current form, or a new amended version, and pass it in 2015 alongside the state budget.
That being said, if online gambling isn’t passed in 2015, the progress made in 2015 will not have been for naught. There are alternative paths forward for online gambling that would lead to an online gambling bill being passed in 2016, most likely in the first few months.
The legislature could pass the 2016 budget in the coming days with no mention of online gambling, and then pass online gambling as a standalone measure in 2016. Online gambling expansion could be proposed as a way to close a potential budget shortfall if the projections in the 2016 budget don’t line up with the reality on the ground (a not uncommon occurrence), or they could legalize online gambling just for the sake of passing an online gambling bill from a revenue and consumer protection standpoint.
Alternatively, revenue from online gambling could be included in the 2016 budget as a funding source, without an online gambling bill being passed. This would require the legislature to prioritize the legislation and pass an iGaming expansion bill early next year. This placeholder path (for lack of a better term) would all but insure online gambling would be legalized in early 2016, and for all intents and purposes, online gambling would be legalized with the passage of the budget.
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