We know you’ve heard this one before, but Pennsylvania might finally have a plan to fund its budget, more than three months after passing a spending package.
And online gambling appears to a part of the revenue package, although it is not in the bill that was passed by the House late Tuesday night.
The legislature took a week off after a budget deal imploded in the House two weeks ago.
It came back to session on Monday, and there was little sense of what, if anything, the House would do on the budget. Gov. Tom Wolf had announced his plan to borrow against the state’s future liquor problems to start stemming a shortfall of more than $2 billion in the state budget.
But that didn’t entirely remove the need or possibility of lawmakers still trying to find a legislative answer to the state’s revenue woes.
Then on Tuesday afternoon, the details of a House Republican revenue plan surfaced. Leadership planned to bring it up immediately for a vote — it was officially called on the House floor — but procedural rules prevented a vote until later in the evening.
That the bill was called up would imply someone believed a majority of the House was ready to vote for it. But according to Philly.com:
It was not clear Tuesday afternoon whether this latest proposal had enough support to pass the chamber. And neither Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, nor the Republican-controlled Senate would commit to it.
However, it eventually passed, 102-88.
The core of the plan — housed in H 542 — according to Penn Live and Philly.com, is “borrowing against future state tobacco settlement revenues.” That figure would come up with up to $1.5 billion for the state.
While that borrowing might not sound much different than Wolf’s plan, it is in reality. There has been talk of privatizing the state’s liquor system for some time, and Wolf’s plan would keep liquor stores under state control for possibly two decades. There are also some one-time transfers from existing state funds in the bill.
Where talks went off the rails two weeks ago was attempting to pass new taxes. A majority could not be found for any of the compromises floated then. And there are new taxes in this current plan, but those appear to be fairly minimal.
So where does online gambling figure in?
A gaming package, while not in the omnibus revenue bill, is a part of the plan. We know that from several places, including House Majority Leader Dave Reed:
“Obviously there’s some other components, because you’ve got the gaming bill still sitting in the Senate…but this gets the ball really rolling in the right direction,” Reed said, referring to H 271.
“And the gaming bill is a separate proposal, so there’s still more revenue to follow,” Reed continued.
Penn Live says the plan includes “a yet-to-be-determined expansion of legal gambling.” Philly.com: “Another $200 million from expanded gambling – the details of which have yet to be worked out.”
Online gambling has figured as a central part of any gaming package in the past, with the legalization of video gaming terminals at private establishments also a likely moving part.
The question now is if the Senate are Wolf are even close to agreeing to the House-approved bill. If they do, then we may soon see movement on the gaming package, and online gambling. That will still depend on if the House, Senate and Wolf can come to an agreement on the gaming portion.
That’s a lot of ifs. But it’s a lot closer to iGaming and online poker than Pennsylvania was yesterday.