Pennsylvania Eyes Gaming Revenue In Face Of $3 Billion Shortfall

Gov. Wolf Promises $250 Million To PA Budget From Gambling Expansion, Likely Including Online Gambling

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Gov. Tom Wolf released his budget proposal for the state of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, and it includes a quarter of a billion dollars of new revenue from gambling in the state over the next year and a half.

That figure likely assumes revenue realized from the legalization of online gambling.

What Wolf said on Tuesday about gambling

Wolf gave an address to the full PA General Assembly, outlining his budget plan, on Tuesday. He did not mention gambling or casinos during his prepared remarks.

However, gambling was a part of the governor’s executive brief on the budget. Here is the section on gambling:

As part of the final 2016-17 Budget agreement, the legislature committed to enacting a gaming expansion proposal that would generate $100 million in the current fiscal year. This commitment continues to be reflected in the 2017-18 Budget, which further proposes an additional $150 million in revenue from gaming expansion for the budget year.

Where exactly does that money come from? Wolf was noncommittal:

Given developments within the legislature, the governor’s proposed budget does not put forth a specific proposal for expansion, but merely assumes revenues within the current ideas being discussed.

Here is the line item for revenue in the budget:

PA gambling budget

The budget reflects what Wolf’s office had already said about its intent for a gambling expansion to be a part of his budget package.

Online gambling almost certainly has to be a part of the ‘expansion’

As Wolf’s office alluded to, there are a lot of possible expansions on the table in Pennsylvania. Legislation providing $100 million to the budget from gambling for the current fiscal year has not yet been passed. Some of the measures being floated include:

  • Video lottery terminals at private establishments
  • Slots at tracks, off-track betting parlors and airports.
  • An increase in current taxes on land-based casinos.

However, the only provision capable of generating the lion’s share of that $100mm+ in new revenue in a short time frame is the legalization of online gambling. Even if Wolf doesn’t mention iGaming by name, the budget almost certainly assumes this will be a part of the equation.

The state legislature has been talking about online gambling for a few years now, with the House even passing two bills in 2016. Those efforts died in the Senate.

What’s next for online gambling and the PA budget?

Later today, the state’s Republicans — which control both chambers of the General Assembly — will weigh in on the budget proposal.

How much Wolf’s proposal meshes with their vision of the budget will be key in determining what happens next.

What is clear is that the state needs to do something about the budget, which will experience an estimated $3 billion shortfall at its current pace, through the end of FY 2017-18.

No matter how much Wolf and Republicans disagree on other matters, it does appear that they have common ground on gambling. There are at least three different gambling bills that will surface in the statehouse with iGaming in them.

The bottom line: Nearly everyone in the government wants to see the revenue from online gambling in the budget. But will the state succeed where it failed last year, and actually pass a bill legalizing online gambling?

- 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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