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Things still remain a mess in the PA legislature on the budget, at least with what remains publicly viewable.
The Senate, as expected, voted down the House package that came up with more than $2 billion in new revenue using largely one-time revenue sources. The 43-7 vote against it was a sign of exactly how unpopular that plan — which barely cleared the House — was.
The state also stopped authorizing short term loans as it ran out of money, and PA saw its credit downgraded, a move that became more likely the longer the state dragged its heels on passing a balanced state budget.
Obviously, a completed budget would be preferable to the ongoing stalemate in the legislature, at least in terms of turning an online gambling proposal into law.
Both the Senate and House revenue packages included $225 million from gaming to cover a shortfall of billions in the budget. Online gambling remains one of the few ways to account for that much gaming revenue.
So how is the Senate voting down the House budget not a problem for online gambling?
Even as the Senate was rejecting a budget plan by a wide margin, negotiations continue behind the scenes. Observers believe that there is a sweet spot between the Republican plan and one backed by the Senate and Gov. Tom Wolf.
That would mean splitting the difference between one-time and recurring revenue that the two sides favor. A compromise certainly makes sense, although politicians aren’t always the best at agreeing to them.
Still, such a compromise appears to be in the works. And it likely will include a gambling component, and online casinos.
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The piece that could thread the needle is the i-gaming piece, with companion provisions to permit internet sales of PA Lottery tickets, and for state regulation of daily fantasy sports games, and possibly gaming at airports.
The story also intimates that more contentious gaming proposals — satellite casinos and video gaming terminals — might be left out of the mix. That would certainly be good news for getting a gaming package done in short order. (A Senate committee, notably, spent Tuesday trying to figure out how to stop illegal VGTs, not legalize them.)
Still, gaming would be the last piece of the puzzle. The rest of the revenue package must be sorted out first. Which leaves the possibility of 2016 all over again, when revenue from gaming legislation was counted on but never acuatally passed.
The issue of legalizing and regulating PA online poker and casinos has been around for five years. While those efforts only got truly serious in the past couple of years, the prospect remains that the state could put off online gambling once again.
But the consequences of not balancing the budget have gotten real in 2017 in a way they haven’t previously. To avoid future problems, lawmakers want the budget to be fully funded. And many of them want stable revenue that can be counted on year after year. Online gambling certainly fits that bill.
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