Fate of plan to balance budget, and gaming, awaits uncertain future in PA House
Online Poker Report

PA Online Gambling Lives On: Senate Budget Plan Counts On $200 Million From Gaming

PA budget online gambling
Senate Republicans in Pennsylvania now officially have a plan to fill a $2 billion gap in the state budget, after working late into the night on Wednesday.

The good news for online gambling proponents is that plan features $200 million in new revenue from a yet-to-be-passed gaming expansion, according to The Associated Press. Any such package which would almost certainly have to include iGaming to generate that much money in the current fiscal year.

But there’s not much reason to celebrate quite yet.

PA, the budget and gaming

Republicans said they had a plan to balance the budget on Wednesday, mainly relying on:

  • New taxes
  • Borrowing against a multistate settlement with tobacco companies
  • The gaming expansion

Gov. Tom Wolf said he supported the plan. A Senate vote on the revenue package is likely to take place Thursday.

The inclusion of gaming — and almost certainly online gambling — in the plan is good news, but was also largely expected.

Here’s the bad news for PA online gambling

The Senate plan — and the future of PA online casinos and poker — faces plenty of hurdles:

  • The gaming package still hasn’t been passed or even finalized, and is the subject of debate between House and Senate leaders. It’s been stuck in the Senate for weeks.
  • The House appears not to have budged from its desire to legalize video gaming terminals in taverns around the state, an issue that is dead on arrival in the Senate.
  • It’s not clear if the House will even agree on the overall revenue plan, let alone the gaming portion of it.

A best-case scenario appears to be the House and Senate agreeing to a revenue package with gaming in it, with final legislation passing this fall.

Wait, hasn’t PA done this before?

If all this sounds familiar, it’s probably because the state did the same thing last year.

The legislature and Wolf came to an agreement on revenue last year that counted on $100 million from gaming and online gambling. Just like the Senate Republicans’ plan this year, lawmakers in 2016 promised to pass a gaming package in the fall. The only hiccup: They never did.

Things are certainly different this time around. Online gambling has been in the mix throughout the year and has seemingly become a less contentious part of negotiations.

Also in play: Pennsylvania faces a downgraded credit rating if it fails to balance the budget, something lawmakers seem to be very cognizant of in trying to come up with a plan. And there’s this, from the AP:

Failing to balance the budget could result in a freeze on some government spending, potentially affecting schools and counties that administer social service programs. Additionally, nearly $600 million in state aid to Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln universities and the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school remains in limbo.

The sense is that if the House and Senate agree on hundreds of millions of dollars from gambling, they can’t punt on it like they did last year. But it’s also far from a sure thing.

For now, a vote on the Senate is on tap. Then we’ll wait to see what the House does, if anything.

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Dustin Gouker
- 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.