Delays And Complications Plague Pennsylvania's Efforts To Pass Sensible Gaming Reforms

Online Gambling Legalization In Pennsylvania Grows More Convoluted As Legislative Clock Ticks On

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It’s complicated.

There’s no other way to explain what is going on in Pennsylvania in regards to online gambling legalization.

The Pennsylvania Legislature is trying to put a dent in a growing budget deficit with around $100 million in new gaming revenue. At the same time, lawmakers are attempting to come up with a fix for the local share tax issue.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dropped the matter into the Legislature’s lap late last year, when it ruled that the share tax portion of the 2004 Pennsylvania Gaming Act was unconstitutional.

To say the Legislature is under the gun is putting it lightly.

The local share tax has a soft deadline of May 25 before the flow of money is cut off to the local communities. The hard deadline is July 15. The state is also running out of time if it wants to use some of money it will collect from online gaming licensing fees towards the 2016/2017 budget.

A gaming reform package that includes the legalization and regulation of online gambling is hung up in the Pennsylvania Senate. This, despite the pressing need to pass the legislation.

Lawmakers are making it harder than it needs to be

The simple solution would take care of both of the issues in a non-disruptive way. That is passing a gaming reform package similar to the bills the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has been championing for the better part of three years.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be the Pennsylvania Senate’s style. The Senate is not only looking the gift horse sent over from the House in the mouth, it decided to send it to the glue factory.

The Senate seems determined to do one of the following:

  • Tinker with every proposal until it’s unacceptable or incapable of accomplishing what it was originally designed to do.
  • Debate each proposal until the Legislature runs out of time to pass anything.

Ball remains in the PA Senate’s court

Unable or unwilling to pass the House’s noncontroversial gaming reform package, the Senate CERD Committee is reportedly crafting its own version of a comprehensive gaming reform bill that would draw from the following list of proposals:

  • Legalize and regulate online gambling.
  • Legalize and regulate daily fantasy sports.
  • Reinstate the local share tax for host and surrounding communities via an annual fee on certain slot license holders.
  • Authorize multi-state progressive slot machines.
  • Sanction the state to allow skill-based and hybrid slot machines.
  • Permit tablet gaming at certain airports.
  • Eliminate the casino amenity requirement currently in place at Category 3 casinos in exchange for a one-time fee.

In an interview Online Poker Report last week, Sen. Mario Scavello, the chairman of the CERD Committee, said he expected the committee to introduce a gaming reform package. He also said he anticipated a vote in the Senate this week.

As noted above, a hearing scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled. Word around the campfire is that the committee remains split on the specifics, most notably the tax rate for online gambling.

Other proposals could fill the void

The ongoing delays by the Senate and the continued quibbling over specifics have opened the door to all sorts of alternative ideas. The number of gaming proposals the Senate is heaping onto its own plate has reached “all you can eat buffet” levels.

In addition to the possibility of a comprehensive gaming reform package, several of the proposals it contains are being considered as standalone bills:

If that wasn’t enough, there are two other gaming expansions that could either replace or supplement online gambling kicking around Harrisburg:

The bottom line is this: The Senate’s inaction isn’t paring down the number of proposals. It’s increasing them.

Pennsylvania’s senators need to get their act together and pass a gaming reform. Otherwise, the state and municipalities affected by the casino local share tax will have holes blown in their budgets.

If that occurs, Pennsylvanians know what happens next: tax hikes.

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- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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