Satellite casinos are newest addition to gaming expansion talks in PA

PA Online Casino Bill Faces Mounting Obstacles As House Reconvenes Over Weekend

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Negotiations to balance the budget in Pennsylvania have been a mess in recent months. And that mess has stalled any progress on a gaming package that would legalize online gambling and daily fantasy sports, among other things.

The latest development: The state’s House of Representatives plans to hold a weekend session to attempt to cobble together a revenue package that would adequately fund the government, according to the Associated Press.

What the House is doing on the budget, gaming

While Gov. Tom Wolf and the Senate had reportedly come to an agreement on the budget, the House — controlled by Republicans — hasn’t gotten on board.

That disagreement has included gambling issues. Wolf and the Senate appear to be set on a gaming package that includes online gambling. But House Republicans have balked. Leadership in that chamber also wants to legalize tens of thousands of video gaming terminals in taverns around the state, which has repeatedly been called a non-starter in the Senate.

The gaming bill — H 271 — had popped up on a Senate committee agenda this week, but no action was taken.

Now, the inclusion of gambling in negotiations at all appears to be in question, at least if the House gets its way. From the AP:

Some rank-and-file Republicans question why an increase in Pennsylvania’s 3.07 income tax rate isn’t a better answer to the state’s fiscal troubles than borrowing cash or hoping for help from another big expansion of casino-style gambling.

“At some point, there’s going to have to be more options on the table than what our leaders are currently talking about,” said Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia.

The AP and other state media outlets have laid the stalemate over budget negotiations at the feet of House Speaker Mike Turzai. A Penn Live house editorial put the chamber’s efforts (or lack thereof) on blast.

Meanwhile, in the Senate…

But still, the gambling package — and iGaming included — is by no means dead. The Senate wants gaming in its final revenue plan.

The newest idea from Senate Republicans is the possibility of adding up to ten new “satellite” casinos. That’s been a late addition to negotiations to find a way to come up with additional revenue from gambling.

How great an idea that is is certainly up for debate. But such locations would certainly cannibalize some amount of existing revenue from the state’s 12 existing casinos. In turn, satellites wouldn’t be entirely additive in terms of tax receipts for the state.

It’s not all rainbows and unicorns for PA casinos

State lawmakers are alternately 1. dragging their heels on a gaming package 2. throwing new things into the mix that could hurt the current casino landscape.

The latter is especially dangerous as casino revenue was already down for the fiscal year that just wrapped up. Revenue at state casinos dropped about one percent year over year, or $25 million.

The safest bet for new meaningful gaming revenue is, of course, online gambling, which would not cannibalize land-based casinos. In fact, most casinos in the state agree iGaming would actually help their land-based casinos, not hurt them.

Lawmakers are playing a dangerous game of chicken with both the budget and the future of PA casinos. We might see how far that game of chicken will go if the House reconvenes this weekend.

- 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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