VGTs appear to be out of PA gaming package

Top PA Senator: ‘If All The Stars Align’ Gaming Package With Online Gambling Could See Vote Next Week

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A revised gaming package legalizing Pennsylvania online casinos and poker could be ready to advance in the state Senate as soon as Monday, seeing a vote by midweek, according to that chamber’s majority leader.

That would take place in tandem with other pieces of an over-arching revenue package designed to plug a shortfall of more than $2 billion in the state budget, according to Sen. Jake Corman, talking to the press this week.

“If all the stars align we’ll be prepared to do all that and be done by Wednesday,” said of a package of revenue-creating bills, including one dealing with gaming. He did not mention online gambling specifically, but it seems clear at this point it will be a part of any gaming package moving forward.

The gaming piece of the puzzle would still have to return to the House and be approved by that chamber, as the Senate is going to amend a House package passed in June. But negotiations on the gaming package have been going on for weeks behind the scenes.

And conventional wisdom says whatever emanates from the Senate will likely have the support of a majority in the House. However, that’s not a given, given the mercurial nature of negotiations over just about anything related to funding the state’s budget in recent months.

The latest on the PA budget, gaming

Sen. Jake Corman held a press conference this week to update the press on his chamber’s position on the ongoing state budget problems the legislature is dealing with.

Two weeks ago, hopes for a budget deal appeared to be on life support, when a deal in the House imploded. But those hopes were rekindled when the House returned this week and appeared to break the legislative logjam. That chamber passed a revenue package that largely depends on borrowing against future tobacco settlement revenues.

Now, it’s up to the Senate to act, when it returns to session on Monday. Corman also talked more widely about the budget. He intimated that the Senate, if it were to act on the House revenue bill, would not be likely to amend it. The ability to get a majority of House representatives to approve even a slightly modified version of this week’s bill would be in doubt.

Regardless, Corman was talking candidly — and optimistically — about the status of things heading into next week.

The gaming portion of the puzzle

Corman also talked about some of the nuts and bolts of the gaming package. That discussion now taking place in a public forum is notable, as most of the chatter of late has been through back channels.

VGTs in PA

The biggest development? Corman said controversial video gaming terminals (VGTs) in private establishments were no longer in play.

“We passed a (gaming) bill earlier in the year that had a significant amount of votes. I’m not sure there are a whole lot of new ideas that have come into play,” Corman said. “There will not be a VGT component to this proposal at all. I know there was discussion of VGTs at truck stops, that will not be part of any bill that comes out of the Senate.”

Satellite casinos

Corman did indicate that so-called satellite casinos — standalone slot facilities not at bars and taverns — were very much in play.

“The only really new component is ancillary facilities that could be opened up around the commonwealth,” Corman said. “So we’re going to work through that to see what we get.”

How much money from gaming?

Corman spoke at length about not counting on too much money from gaming. The latest House plan appears to account on $265 million in new revenue.

“There are some concerns on some of the aggressive estimates on gaming,” Corman said. “So whether we can achieve the amount of dollars that this proposal may ask for, I think is aggressive and may be difficult to do, particularly this late in the year.”

He also stressed that adding things to the gaming bill just for the sake of new revenue was not something he was interested in.

“I want to make sure when it comes to gaming we do the best public policy and whatever that number accumulates, great, but I’m not going to keep setting policy to try to get to a high number,” Corman said.

“The recurring number was particularly high in the second year in [the House’s] assumptions. Whether that can be achieved or not, I don’t know. In the scale of a $33 billion revenue package that funds our state budget, you’re only talking about a couple hundred million here, so it’s a fraction of what we need to achieve.”

So what’s in the gaming bill?

Online Poker Report understands that the bill that is likely to be advanced will include online gambling, daily fantasy sports, tablet gaming at airports and satellite casinos.

The satellite casinos and iGaming would be counted on to generate the bulk of the new revenue the legislature is looking to raise.

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What’s next for PA?

When the Senate returns, we’ll be on the lookout for action on several fronts, including the main revenue package (H 542) and the gaming bill (H 271).

The gaming portion is in the Senate Rules Committee. Currently, that body is not scheduled to meet next week. If that committee is convened and the bill surfaces there with an amendment and a vote, then things could happen quickly.

But given how things have fallen apart in the past on gaming and the budget, reading horoscopes for next week to see if the stars align might be in order.

- 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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