Odds Of PA Legislature Legalizing Online Gambling Appear To Increase With The Day

January 16, 2017
Odds Of PA Legislature Legalizing Online Gambling Appear To Increase With The Day

Pennsylvania online gambling legalization got tantalizingly close to the finish line in 2016. The chatter from the legislature continues to be positive to start 2017, including a key lawmaker saying that he believed online gambling has the support to pass early this year.

Gaming chair on online gambling

State Sen. Mario Scavello was the latest lawmaker to provide optimism for proponents of PA online casinos. Scavello is the new chairman of the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, which deals with gambling issues under its umbrella.

In a recent interview with CDC Gaming Reports, Scavello said it “looks like online gaming has the support to pass.”

That’s perhaps the best news for online gambling in the state since Gov. Tom Wolf and the legislature promised to pass a gambling expansion to fund the budget last year.

Scavello also thought the legislature would pass a gambling expansion bill by March, although a new report casts some amount of doubt on that timeframe.

Are Senate Republicans on the same page on online gambling?

A new report from Trib Live on the status of gambling legislation filled in some of the blanks:

  • Sen. Kim Ward (whom Scavello replaced as CERD Committee chair) will introduce the Republicans’ version of the gambling expansion. That will join the effort from the Senate Democrats (from minority leader Jay Costa) that is also planned.
  • Ward did not talk about the online gambling portion of an expansion, despite the fact she appeared to be concerned with the revenue from it. Online gambling would provide the lion’s share of any revenue realized by the state.
  • Costa continued to advance the “consumer protection” aspect of online gambling legalization. From Trib Live: “I think it’s a natural progression of gaming in Pennsylvania, the next logical step,” he said. “To some degree, both (iGaming and DFS) are already present, particularly fantasy sports. What we’re doing is regulating it.

In full, the latest report on PA gambling pointed to the idea that Republicans are not yet on the same page on the issue.

While Scavello painted a picture that online gambling was almost a done deal, it appears that the Republican caucus does not know what it wants in the final gambling package, nor when we will see said package. And that could spell trouble for any individual portion of the expansion, including iGaming.

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The moving parts are many, but the central issue is revenue

The possible gambling expansion that is likely on its way in the Senate will likely have way more than just iGaming in it. Issues include:

  • Daily fantasy sports regulation;
  • Authorizing limited forms of gambling at select airports and off-track betting parlors;
  • A solution to the casino host tax issue that came from the state Supreme Court ruling a tax law was unconstitutional.

Right now, however, the state has a fairly major problem on its hands in terms of revenue. Pennsylvania had already planned on $100 million in new dollars coming into state coffers via a gambling bill it hasn’t yet passed.

Now, however, the budget is in dire shape. For the current fiscal year, estimates put a shortfall on revenue at about $600 million. Next fiscal year, the state could be facing a $2 billion deficit.

Raising taxes or cutting significant government services are usually not popular routes to go.

Can the state government afford not to enact iGaming regulation, at this stage? It may not be able to, whether every lawmaker is on board or not.

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