PA lawmakers have to figure out how to pay for spending package, with iGaming a possibility

Pennsylvania Online Gambling Battle Looms After Fourth Of July As Lawmakers Finalize Budget

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Pennsylvania lawmakers appear ready to pass a budget for the fiscal year that starts on July 1.

The question that remains: How will they pay for it? Among the options that is very much in the mix is a gaming package that includes the legalization of online poker and gambling.

The PA budget, nearly a done deal

It appears lawmakers have reached consensus on a $32 billion spending package for the state’s budget.

That, of course, is just how the state plans to spend money. It has nothing to do with how the state plans to pay for it. That could be a difficult prospect for a state deficit that is estimated to exceed $2 billion.

It appears that lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf will wait until after the Fourth of July to figure out the revenue package that funds the government. That includes a controversial gaming bill that includes iGaming.

Chatter on the budget and PA gambling

When lawmakers return from their holiday break, gaming will be a part of the discussion.

Both the House and the Senate have passed their own versions of a gaming package. But the bills passed by each look very different on some topics, namely the possibility of video gaming terminals (VGTs) being legalized in taverns around the state. Lawmakers in the two chambers haven’t reached a consensus yet on what a final gaming bill will look like.

From the Morning Call:

The post-holiday legislative session also could include controversial measures to expand gambling and issue new bonds that would be needed to cover government expenses and the state’s ongoing deficit, now pegged at about $2.2 billion.

Of course, we’ve seen and heard this before. The state government enacted a budget counting on new revenue from gambling last year, but they never actually passed any gaming legislation.

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VGTs are holding things up

The debate over VGTs — which would add tens of thousands of gaming terminals outside of PA casinos — continues to be the main sticking point. Online gambling remains relatively noncontroversial, outside of what tax rate will be employed.

While the House backs VGTs, the votes don’t seem to be there in the Senate, however.

From Fox 43:

Rep. Mark Mustio (R-Allegheny) told FOX43 earlier in the week the VGT-based gaming expansion could net $300 million in new, non-taxed revenue. However, the majority of Senators aren’t keen on the idea of relying on so-called “sin taxes” to balance a budget. Many are, however, in favor of a limited gaming expansion, including internet-based casino games and online lottery games.

How is PA paying for the budget?

Interestingly, the Senate version of the budget passed Friday morning clocked in at $32 billion, more than what the House wanted to spend ($31.5 billion). That extra half billion dollars would seem to bode well for the gaming revenue package.

We’ve also recently heard from Wolf, who said he wanted ‘real revenue’ from any gaming expansion. That appeared to be aimed at the idea that VGTs could cannibalize, to some extent, current gaming revenue generated in the state.

After the fireworks and cookouts on Tuesday, we’ll look for lawmakers to get back to the gaming debate — and the future of iGaming in Pennsylvania.

- 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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