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The legislature has adjourned without finalizing a massive gaming package, of which iGaming is a part. The issue could be revisited in the coming days or weeks, but it could also drag into the fall.
The Pennsylvania legislature returned to Harrisburg after the Fourth of July holiday with the intention of finalizing the state’s 2017-2018 budget. That included reaching an agreement on a comprehensive gaming bill the legislature has been working on for three years.
The legislature passed the spending portion of the budget on June 30. But how the state would pay for it was left blank. Gov. Tom Wolf didn’t veto or sign the bill within the ten-day window, which means the spending portion of the budget was approved under Pennsylvania law.
Over the past week, the leadership from the Senate and House, along with the governor, has been trying to iron out the details of the funding bill. Thus far a consensus has eluded them.
According to multiple sources, video gaming terminals, which were reportedly taken off the table last week, have reemerged and derailed talks. The House is once again insisting VGTs be included in the package, but the votes simply don’t exist in the Senate.
One source told Online Poker Report the Senate tried to force the House to stop stonewalling and accept the reality of the situation. As late as yesterday afternoon, the Senate was insisting the legislature not leave Harrisburg until they finalized a funding package.
It appears the House won that battle of wills. The legislature is now in recess, with no official date to return. However, both chambers are “on call,” meaning leadership could call a session on six hours notice.
Another interesting aspect of the negotiations was a proposed provision that would sunset the local share tax fix in the coming years.
Sunsetting the local share tax would require the legislature to once again tackle gaming in a year or two, providing VGT supporters with another opportunity.
Despite the “on-call” status, there is a very real possibility that the VGT debate will lead to the gaming bill dragging on for several more months before the rubber meets the road in the fall.
From the sound of it, leadership wants to get the budget wrapped up sooner rather than later.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed sounded optimistic that a deal could get done in the coming weeks, telling Philly.com, “It’s got to get done — it will get done.”
“You know, sometimes a couple of hours away for everybody is a good thing. We can regroup and put it back together,” Reed went on to say. “I don’t think anybody wants to do this all year.”
Senate Republican spokesperson Jennifer Kocher told Philly.com: “As negotiations continue, we are hopeful we will return to session soon to finalize the components of the budget.”
According to Gambling Compliance (paywall), the legislature did send several draft packages to the governor over the weekend. Wolf rejected each of them.
Wolf is looking for long-term solutions for the budget. He rejected the packages because they lacked recurring revenue. That included a tax on natural gas drilling that has the support of Democrats, according to Philly.com.
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The good news is the funding packages sent to the governor included the legalization of:
They also featured the authorization of “satellite” casinos. Existing Pennsylvania casinos having first crack at the licenses.
The latter proposal emerged as an alternative to VGTs. With a hefty up-front licensing fee, satellites would bring in a good chunk of immediate revenue, much like online gambling. Among the restrictions, satellite casinos would have to be at least 25 miles from existing casinos. There would also be limits on the number of gaming machines and tables.
The delays are frustrating, but legal online gambling is still a strong favorite to become a reality in Pennsylvania this year.