Lawmakers are inserting gaming discussion into the need for $600 million for PA universities
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Is Gaming Throwing A Wrench In The PA Budget Mess, And Could Online Gambling Fund State’s Universities?

Wrench PA budget online gambling
Some in Harrisburg appear to be pointing at a gaming package — which includes online gambling and poker — as part of the reason Pennsylvania doesn’t have a balanced budget.

The revelation came from a house editorial at Philly.com, which framed the budget impasse in the state in a new light.

It also appears that gaming and online gambling could be a possible way to fund a $600 million shortfall for universities in the state.

Gaming package throwing wrench in PA budget?

Last week, a deal to fill a $2 billion hole in the state budget was near. But that blew up after signs of progress.

In the past week, the breakdown had been characterized as being with a larger revenue package and new taxes. A gaming expansion in the state — one that would possibly include online casinos and poker, video gaming terminals (VGTs) at bars and satellite casinos — was off to the side and being handled separately, it was just generally understood.

But Philly.com painted the gaming debate as a primary cause of the budget stalemate.

The key flashpoint in the state right now — beyond the budget mess in total — is money that is earmarked to help in-state students attend schools. But there’s currently nowhere for that $600 million to come from.

Here’s the key passage from the Philly.com piece, linking university funding and gaming:

Questioned about that possibility, key legislators all began singing the same song, saying that if only a gambling expansion bill were passed, the universities would have nothing to worry about.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana) said the Senate, despite its leaders’ stated commitment, still hadn’t passed the House’s gambling bill. “That commitment’s only been out there for a year, year and a half, now,” he complained.

The backstory on gaming and VGTs

Reed is referring to a gaming bill that has been passed back and forth between the House and the Senate in 2017.

The bill he appears to be referring to — H 271 — has been sitting idle in the Senate since June, when the House passed its version. That bill has included online gambling legalization and regulation in all of its iterations.

Behind the scenes, lawmakers have been negotiating a final version of the bill that is amenable to both chambers. The House added provisions that would allow for more than 40,000 VGTs around the state, which has been a contentious issue and seen as a non-starter in the Senate.

A compromise of VGTs being added only at truck stops appeared to have gained traction previously. But the new reporting makes it seem like the House is still angling for a full rollout of VGTs in private establishments around the state.

All the while, online gambling remains a big piece of the gaming puzzle, and the one that can instantly generate cash for the commonwealth. Up-front licensing fees would generate more than $100 million without breaking a sweat.

The “hundreds of millions” from VGTs would not come instantly, and indeed there’s a big question about how much this would cannibalize existing casino revenue in the state.

Hopeful notes on the budget and gaming

Meanwhile, politicians in the state are trying to bounce back from last week’s debacle. And the impetus to pass a budget still remains despite fiscal measures being taken by Gov. Tom Wolf to keep state government up and running.

Does it all add up to progress for online gambling as a quick fix for the state’s current predicament? That would be a logical course of action. But there’s been little logic in play as politicians have made a mess of the state’s finances.

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Dustin Gouker
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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.