PA Online Gambling Hangs In The Balance As House And Senate Are Split On Gaming Package

June 23, 2017
PA Online Gambling Hangs In The Balance As House And Senate Are Split On Gaming Package
Next week could be make or break for online gambling in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania House and Senate are working behind the scenes to come up with a large-scale gaming package that would be able to pass both chambers before the legislature recesses on June 30.

Barring a special session, if the bill isn’t passed by June 30 it would be put on ice until the legislature reconvenes in September.

According to Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, the Senate and House are trying to avoid “ping-ponging” the bill back and forth.

“We want to reach a consensus and wrap everything up by doing what needs to be done,” Costa told Online Poker Report.

According to Costa, the Senate’s plan is to send a bill back to the House to which it’s already agreed.

The chatter comes as New York failed to act on an online poker bill, meaning all eyes turn to PA and Illinois to see if iGaming can reach the finish line.

Little appetite for VGTs in the Senate

The current proposal includes everything from the legalization of daily fantasy sports and online gambling to authorizing tablet gaming at airports, but the biggest point of contention is a provision in the House’s bill to potentially authorize video gaming terminals (VGTs) in thousands of locations across the state.

VGTs have become even more of a lightning rod than another point of disagreement between the two legislative bodies: the online gaming tax rate.

In his interview with Online Poker Report, Costa said VGTs have become the overarching issue in the legislation, and the tax rate issue is unlikely to be properly discussed until VGTs are resolved.

“The House added a couple things that are having a difficult time getting through the Senate,” Costa told OPR. “Video gaming terminals is an issue that I think a lot of members of the Senate are not supportive of, and that has become a roadblock, quite frankly, to reaching a consensus.”

Costa went on to say:

“The bigger issue right now is what role VGTs play and whether or not VGTs and ancillary sites will be in the mix, and if they are what the tax rate for all of those will be in the future.

If we reconcile the VGT difference, that will lead to the next level of issues that need to be addressed. As you knock off one, you go to the next one. The tax rate for iGaming has been discussed, but it may not be resolved until we have some other aspects resolved.”

Another legislative source that spoke to US Poker said there wouldn’t be enough votes to pass the gaming bill in the Senate if it included VGTs, adding that a gaming reform package sans VGTs would likely “sail through.”

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Even if the House wins, it might still lose

The House appears hell-bent on keeping VGTs in the legislation, and the Senate wants the proposal stripped out.

But even if the House wins the VGT battle, it might be all for naught.

Gov. Tom Wolf recently told Associated Press reporters the VGT proposal “concerns” him.

“I want real revenue, and I want net revenue,” Wolf said during an event at the capitol. “I don’t want anything that we do in gaming or gambling to interfere with the revenues that are already in place. If it just cannibalizes and takes from one bucket called gambling to another, the Commonwealth isn’t doing anything more than it has in the past.”

Is there another solution?

Another solution to the VGT issue was first raised by Rep. George Dunbar. Dunbar proposes limiting the machines by creating a higher barrier for entry, raising the fee per machine from a mere $100 to $10,000.

“I could see that happening,” Costa told OPR. “It’s one of a variety of things being discussed.”

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