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According to Matt Assad of the Morning Call, the Pennsylvania Senate is unlikely to vote on a multi-faceted gaming bill this year.
The bill in question, HB 1887, began as a problem gambling reform bill, but was amended by the Senate last week to include a temporary fix to the local tax share section of the Gaming Act of 2004. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that section unconstitutional earlier this fall.
The following day, the House further amended the bill, making the tax fix permanent and adding the following gaming reforms:
The Senate adjourned without considering the bill, and isn’t due back in session until November 15.
According to Assad’s reporting, the Senate wants to pass the tax share fix separate from online gambling — something it has tried to accomplish all along. And for reasons yet to be elucidated, it is in no hurry to pass an online gambling bill.
By contrast, the House wants the two issues to be dealt with at the same time. Legalization and regulation of online gambling has passed the House in two separate bills on two separate occasions in 2016 — the first passage was in late June.
But when the bills have gotten to the Senate, the upper chamber has been content to sit on its hands. This, despite earmarking $100 million in projected online gambling revenue to help fund the state budget, not to mention the need to rectify the local tax share issue.
“We told the House before, we don’t have consensus on I-gaming, yet they chose to load it into the host fee bill,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman told the Morning Call.
Complicating matters will be the retirement of the House Gaming Oversight chair, John Payne. Payne has been the catalyst of online gambling legalization in Pennsylvania during the past two years.
And even though other lawmakers — Representative Rosita Youngblood and Representative George Dunbar — appear ready to assume Payne’s mantle, his retirement will not be insignificant when it comes to online gambling.
Other complications could also rear their heads next year. Youngblood told Online Poker Report earlier this year that having online gambling spill over into 2017 opens a whole new can of worms, including turnover in the legislature.
Youngblood called this “a risk not worth taking.”
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The House was hoping the local tax share crisis would light a fire under the Senate and force action on online gambling by combining it with the tax fix.
But the urgency the 120-day legislative deadline was supposed to create doesn’t seem as serious as it was first made out to be.
Even if the deadline comes and goes, State Senator Pat Browne, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is confident the body can get the tax share issue ironed out in 2017 before it becomes an issue for local towns and counties.
The court deadline calls on the legislature to fix the local tax share language by January 26, 2017, but because of the timing of the payments, this is a soft deadline.
The disbursements of the local tax share funds are made quarterly, with the next payment scheduled for January 15, a full six days ahead of the deadline. The legislature would then have until April 15 to fix the language and retroactively reinstate the local tax payments.
“Any municipality preparing their budget can book the casino number they we’re expecting because it’s probable revenue,” Browne told the Morning Call. “We may not have a deal before the court deadline, but we’ll have it settled before they miss a check. I believe that.”