Budget progress could be on display on Monday when PA Senate reconvenes

PA Budget Deal Reportedly Inching Closer, In Good News For Online Poker, Casinos

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Pennsylvania media outlets reported that state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf had made significant progress on a budget deal that could end a months-long stalemate.

If a deal is on the verge of being brokered, it would be more good news for the fate of online casinos and poker being legalized in the state.

PA budget progress is happening

Let’s start here: A deal on a revenue plan to cover a $2.2 billion shortfall in the budget is not done.

But it’s made enough progress that many are sounding positive notes in the state. Headlines on Friday read: “Signs of a deal nearing on Pa.’s budget” and “Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but Pa. budget logjam shows signs of easing.”

The Senate had been scheduled to be back in Harrisburg in two weeks, but it instead moved up its timetable to Monday to return to session. That was the first good sign.

Then people started saying positive things. From Penn Live:

And House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, touted “positive and productive” talks in a memo to his 121 GOP members.

“It is our hope to have something to share with you next week as we return to session that would close out last year’s deficit and bring this year’s budget into balance,” Reed wrote.

That story also noted “progress” from Wolf’s camp.

What are the specifics? Those are still murky. From Philly.com:

“Not knowing what next week will bring, it may be a good idea to pack for a long week,” Reed said in the email.

Spokespeople for Republicans who control both legislative chambers would not release details, saying they were still being ironed out.

Online gambling very much in the mix

As Online Poker Report related yesterday, the gambling package component of the revenue deal was also being worked on concurrently.

The Penn Live story confirmed the skeleton of the gambling deal, one that would include:

  • The legalization of online gambling.
  • Satellite casinos with slots.
  • A limited rollout of video gaming terminals.

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2017 appears to be different from 2016 for PA online casinos

The budget process this year is reminiscent of what happened last year. Wolf and lawmakers eventually agreed on a budget that was funded partially by a gaming expansion, counting on $100 million from things like online gambling.

No such gaming package was ever passed, however. While some might see parallels of this go-round with last year, the dynamic appears to be different:

  • In 2016, there were no serious discussions about what would be in the final gaming package alongside the larger revenue deal. It was just a number to balance the budget then. That is a red flag that is not in play this year, as specifics are being hammered out for the gaming portion.
  • Far more money is in play. About $250 million from gaming is the amount that will be in the revenue plan, a number that would be difficult to brush aside if no coinciding gaming package is enacted.
  • There is far more pressure on the state to produce a truly balanced budget in the wake of a credit downgrade and as the state treasurer refuses to authorize short-term loans to keep money flowing through government.

Will this year actually be different in the end?

It’s always difficult to handicap such a proposition when talking about politics and something as controversial as gaming. But things do appear to be looking up for the prospects of Pennsylvanians playing at online poker rooms and casinos in 2018.

- 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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