Gambling Expansion Will Be Counted On For State Budget Revenue

Reports: Pennsylvania Legislature Punting On Online Gambling Until Fall

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Multiple media reports on Tuesday night indicated that a Pennsylvania gambling expansion — that could also legalize online poker and casinos — will be counted on for revenue but will not be voted on until the fall.

The latest on PA’s gambling expansion

The Associated Press and The Philadelphia News both cited interviews with Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Browne in relating the fate of the gambling expansion.

From the AP:

Legislation to make Pennsylvania the fourth state to legalize casino-style gambling on the internet will wait until the fall, but be counted on to provide $100 million for the state treasury, Browne said.

And the Philly News:

Mr. Browne signaled that the legislature will count on raising roughly $100 million from gambling expansion — but will not actually settle and vote on the legislation until the fall.

Asked about the risk of deferring resolving gambling expansion until the fall, Mr. Browne said: “One hundred million dollars in the scope of a $31.5 billion budget … it’s not needed right away. But if it’s probable? You can book something that is probable.”

Browne is referring to a number of new gambling provisions that have been floated in the legislature — and passed by the House late last month.

The chatter on gambling came as the state attempted to create a revenue package to fund a spending bill that Gov. Tom Wolf allowed to become law.

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Will online gambling be in that package?

That’s the $100 million question. It certainly seems feasible that a gambling revenue package could raise nine figures without online gambling.

That would be especially true if taxes on table gaming at casinos are increased from 12 percent to 14 percent, an idea that apparently is gaining traction. The gambling expansion, as it has been considered to date, also include increased availability of slot machines in the state.

If counted on for $200 million or more — like the House version — online gambling would have to be a part of the package.

The final look of what the Senate plans to do with gambling — and if online gambling and poker would be in the bill — is a variable. But other than opposition from Sands Bethlehem and Parx Casino, online gambling has not been a terribly contentious part of the gambling expansion talks.

Rep. George Dunbar, the sponsor of the House daily fantasy sports bill that was transformed into an omnibus gaming package, was still bullish on online gambling earlier in the day. He told CDC Gaming Reports that inclusion of online gambling regulation in such a package was a “no-brainer.”

What’s next for online gambling?

The Senate did not go into recess for the summer on Tuesday night — it will be in session again on Wednesday. The AP reported that a spending package that Wolf would agree to “was close to finished.”

But given the above reports it seems like a gambling bill will not be voted on. Admittedly, however, the situation regarding Pennsylvania’s budget is fluid. Momentum for passing a balanced budget includes:

  • The possibility of someone filing a lawsuit against the state passing an unbalanced budget.
  • The threat of a downgraded credit rating for the state.

Is the promise of a $100 million gambling revenue bill — with no actual language and no guarantee it would pass — enough to stave off those possibilities?

As for the timeframe, the “fall” is amorphous, as the legislature does not technically adjourn until Nov. 30. It is, of course, an election year, and it’s not clear if lawmakers would be coming in the middle of reelection campaigns.

- 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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