It's Now Or The Fall For PA Gaming Reform As Senate Reconvenes For Two-Day Session

PA Senate Back In Session, But Gaming Reforms May Have To Wait Until The Fall

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Pennsylvania is on the precipice of legalizing online gambling. But final passage could be pushed off until the fall if legislators can’t reconcile their differences over the next few days.

The Pennsylvania Senate will be back in session today and tomorrow. The Senate could pass gaming reform legislation that would, among other things, legalize online gambling and daily fantasy sports.

If the Senate does pass the legislation it would put the ball in the House’s court. The House could then opt to vote for what House leadership sees as an imperfect bill or, more likely, it will elect to punt until September.

The budget process has stalled more times than Mrs. Larusso’s car in The Karate Kid. It’s becoming more and more apparent that there’s a faction in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that is content to stall the budget, and the gaming reform component of the budget, as long as possible.

Recap of how PA got here

Despite earmarking money from gaming reforms in its last two budgets, the two chambers have been unable to find common ground and pass a gaming reform package.

Over the past two years, the House and the Senate have both passed legislation, but that legislation has withered and died in the opposing chamber.

In an effort to avoid continuing this game of political hot potato, leadership from both chambers, along with the governor’s office, were trying to hash out a bill behind the scenes that would be agreeable to both bodies.

In doing so, they would avoid floor amendments allowing the already-agreed-upon bill to reach concurrence very quickly.

Taking my ball and going home

By all accounts progress was being made towards a mutually agreeable bill… and then the wheels came off.

Last week House leadership, specifically, Speaker Mike Turzai, abruptly ended negotiations and began pushing an alternative proposal. That proposal relied almost solely on borrowing and raiding other sources of funding.

During an unusual weekend session, House Republicans couldn’t even get their alternative proposal to committee, let alone to the floor for a vote. The House is now punting back to the Senate.

“I think he’s in a box now,” Republican Rep. John Taylor told “I don’t know what the endgame is. But if I were him, I wouldn’t take this all-or-nothing approach. It’s like they’re ignoring the fact that they have to have [Wolf’s] agreement on this.”

“The only answer I can come up with is that he can at least show that he pulled out all the stops. … But for all I know, he may really believe he can do this,” Taylor said.

You already have our proposal

Even though the compromise proposal has the support of House Democrats, both sides of the Senate, and Gov. Tom Wolf, House leadership is inexplicably telling everyone else to lay their cards on the table and send them a proposal.

As reported on Friday, even the Senate and governor’s proposals are clear as day. “Turzai sent members home a day early and announced that the House would wait to see what revenue proposals come from the governor or the Senate,” the paper wrote.

It seems Turzai is rendering all proposals not to his liking invalid, and refusing to bring them up for a vote. Perhaps he senses that the measures would pass with the support of moderate Republicans and House Democrats.

Pennsylvania Senate back in session this week

As noted above, the Senate scheduled a brief two-day session beginning Wednesday. It could revisit and pass a gaming proposal during this time.

If it doesn’t, the legislation will likely drag into the fall after the legislature returns from its summer recess.

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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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