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On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Senate Community Economic & Recreational Development Committee passed H 271 by a vote of 13-1, with Sen. Robert Tomlinson refraining from voting.
The bill moved to the Senate floor, but it was immediately sent back to the CERD committee for further work.
The bill, which passed the House by a vote of 142-56, seeks to authorize tablet gaming at designated airports in Pennsylvania.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. George Dunbar, recently provided some color to Online Poker Report’s Matthew Kredell, explaining how H 271 fits within Pennsylvania’s larger gaming plans.
Last year, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed two separate gaming packages designed to fill a few holes in the state budget. The Senate chose not to act on either proposal. That is why gaming reform is still on the legislative agenda in 2017.
Perhaps frustrated by the Senate’s inaction, the House has decided to try a different approach this time around. It gave the Senate a relatively clean bill to work with — H 271 — and specific revenue targets that need to be met.
“We put in one thing, tablets in airports, and basically said, ‘You load it up with what you want in it,’” Dunbar told OPR. “It puts the ball in their court.”
Dunbar explained how the House has already sent the Senate its budget bill (several months ahead of schedule), providing revenue targets for the gaming reforms, amounting to $375 million.
“We sent up the bill for them to load up along with the budget for them to figure out this is what we need to do to get this done,” Dunbar said. “It’s up to them to change the budget or send the bill back to us with everything on it.”
The big question is, what will the Senate put in the bill, and will it be amenable to the House?
The House and the Senate are largely in agreement on what reforms they would like to see included:
According to reporting from Philly.com:
“Committee Chairman Mario Scavello (R., Monroe) said he expects that bill to be amended to include a proposal to raise gaming money that had been factored into the current year’s budget. He said it also would address a court decision that has threatened payments from casinos to their local communities.”
Despite the general agreement, as is often the case, the devil is in the details. Important people in the two legislative bodies have vastly different ideas when it comes to the tax rate that should be imposed on online gambling operators.
Another aspect that will be brought up if and when the bill returns to the House is the authorization of video gaming terminals at bars, truck stops and off-track betting parlors throughout the state.
VGTs are unlikely to be included by the Senate (which could very well be an ancillary reason the House decided to let the Senate write most of the bill). But that issue will almost certainly lead to a major fight in the House, where there is growing support for the proposal.
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It appears the heavy lifting for the bill will happen in committee, instead of the Senate floor. The bill could be amended at either stop. But the move back to CERD indicates amending the gaming bill with more revenue-producing items will happen there.
The CERD committee does not have any currently scheduled meetings. But expect that to change soon.