Signs Point To 2017 Action On Pennsylvania Gambling, But How Far Will State Go?

December 30, 2016
Signs Point To 2017 Action On Pennsylvania Gambling, But How Far Will State Go?

All indications make it look like the Pennsylvania legislature is poised to take up gambling issues early in 2017. But the scope of what the statehouse will do with gambling — and how quickly — remain variables as the calendar year turns.

No matter what, the fact that the state wants to move forward on gambling issues is not being made a secret, as the issue is being discussed in very public forums.

PA casino meeting next week

The latest indication that we will see conversations immediately on PA gambling came from a key senator in the state. More from the Associated Press:

Sen. Kim Ward (R-39) has summoned officials from the state’s 12 casinos to Harrisburg for a meeting Jan. 3, the day lawmakers are sworn in for the new two-year legislative session. Changes must be made to Pennsylvania’s casino gambling law and work should get started early, Ward said.

“The days of doing nothing are over at this point,” Ward said.

The main topic of discussion appears to be the casino “host tax” that benefits jurisdictions hosting gaming facilities. That tax, with an impact of more than $100 million statewide, was struck down as unconstitutional earlier this year.

But it is safe to assume Ward, casinos and other lawmakers will address a host of other gaming issues in the state. Among those will be PA online gambling regulation.

Ward has chaired the Senate’s Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee in the past — that body oversee gambling issues — but she was recently replaced by Sen. Mario Scavello.

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Another senator talks gambling, too

Sen. Robert Tomlinson was talking gambling issues even before the details’ of the Ward meeting with casinos came out.

Tomlinson’s message to his fellow lawmakers: Fix the aforementioned casino tax, and take your time on everything else that has to do with gambling. The state senator said online gambling could hurt, not help, PA land-based casinos, an assertion most casinos in the state disagree with.

From a memo penned by Tomlinson:

 “We face the very real risk the Commonwealth will actually lose revenue as a result of the introduction of Internet gambling (at the significantly lower tax rate proposed) and the potential to siphon gaming dollars away from our bricks-and-mortar casinos.”

A new House champion for online gambling

Meanwhile, Rep. John Payne retired from the House. Payne was the one who led the way on many PA gambling issues, online gambling included.

It’s clear that Rep. Rosita Youngblood is trying to take up his mantle, publicly advocating on numerous occasions for online gambling legalization. She also refuted many of the points in the Tomlinson memo.

I have been involved in this issue since 2010. And over the last two years, the House, in a strong bipartisan manner, focused heavily on gaining as much information and facts on the pros and cons of iGaming as possible. And that research showed that regulating iGaming would have no ill-effect on casinos, but in fact would enhance their operations.

For anyone worried that no one would take up Payne’s cause, it’s evident that Youngblood has stepped up to the plate.

PA budget has problems

The backdrop for gambling discussions in the state is an increasing budget gap for the current fiscal year. The current FY is less than half over, yet the state is already $600 million behind on revenue.

Gambling expansion remains an easy way to help fill this gap, if passed. And last summer, the legislature already promised $100 million to the budget from gambling measures — online gambling included.

All of the above means the PA legislature is going to do plenty of talking about gambling provisions in the state, and that online gambling will again be on the table. But what legislation — if any — will actually be passed remains to be seen.

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