Shale gas tax is back on the table, which could open up PA budget negotiations

At Least One PA Lawmaker Optimistic On Budget Deal, Online Gambling

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Pennsylvania lawmaker is spreading optimism that a budget deal in the state is still possible, a deal that would include online gambling.

Reason for hope in PA?

Things started looking bleak for both a budget deal and iGaming in recent days. Early last week, a plan to fill more than $2 billion in revenue shortfall appeared to be almost a done deal. But that deal imploded on Wednesday.

Gov. Tom Wolf then said he would be taking steps on his own — including borrowing against future state liquor profits — to balance the budget. That left nearly everything up in the air, including whether state lawmakers would even try to find common ground on funding the budget moving forward.

Right now, lawmakers are not in session in Harrisburg. But Erie News Now reported that there may be a path forward for a revenue package, one that includes a controversial shale gas tax. An effort to bring a shale tax bill up for a vote failed last week, but may have more support among House Republicans now, according to Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, a Democrat.

Such a tax would go along way toward coming up with the revenue the state needs to balance the budget.

That talks are going on already after some bitter exchanges last week between lawmakers on and off the legislature’s floor has to be encouraging.

Online gambling isn’t dead

The Erie News also learned that gaming is very much on the table:

Expanded gaming is still an option as well. Lawmakers debated a revenue package last week, that called for expanding online gaming, legalized video gaming at truck stops, and so-called mini casinos in rural areas of the state, which by some estimates could generate at least $200 million.

“I don’t see how they do not have gaming as part of this equation moving forward,” said Bizzarro.

Even with Wolf’s plans — which also now include borrowing against the PA Farm Show Complex — the state faces uncertainty. There is a question whether his liquor plan is even feasible, and the state still owes universities hundreds of millions in funding.

All of that appears to mean that no one is entirely ready to walk away from budget talks, or the gaming package.

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What’s next for the PA budget, gaming?

There was optimistic budget chatter in late September and early October. After a budget deal fell flat on its face, such chatter will be taken with a grain of salt in the coming days and weeks. Until a plan actually sees the light of day and a vote, it will be difficult to claim actual progress.

And outside of Bizzarro’s comments, things have been mostly quiet since a week ago.

Still, talks had been and are going on behind the scenes, and things could happen quickly, both for the budget and iGaming. And the university funding alone could provide the will to pass some funding measures outside of a budget deal.

The House and Senate return to action at the top of next week. And that means at least the possibility of movement on online poker and casinos. But the smart money has debate in the state stretching deeper into the fall, and likely November.

- 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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