Progress toward passing an online gaming bill in Pennsylvania stalled late in 2015, but it appears gaming expansion is still on the table as the state tries to end a budget impasse that has lasted more than six months.
The latest on PA online gambling bill
The latest indication that the gaming bill is still percolating in the background came from Rep. Steven Mentzer, who penned an op-ed on the budget situation at LancasterOnline.com:
Gaming is among the issues still being discussed during the budget battle, according to Mentzer:
My hope had been that we could find some additional savings and revenue from pension reform or liquor privatization, but those attempts were vetoed by the governor June 30. Current topics of discussion include increased tobacco taxes, gambling expansion, increases in the personal income tax, and a sales tax increase and expansion.
He also notes that pretty much everything is still a possibility in terms of funding the budget:
As previous votes and discussions in the General Assembly have proved, there is no consensus or agreement among the House, Senate and governor on a revenue plan. For most people, it is much easier to talk about how to spend money than it is to decide who should pay for the spending.
Background on PA gaming and the budget
Optimism for the imminent passage of HB 649 — a gaming expansion package that also legalizes and regulates online poker — had waned in recent weeks. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Payne, indicated that the gaming bill would be taken up again in the spring, on its own merits and not in the context of the state budget battle.
Payne’s comments put a cap on the hopes of online gaming being authorized in 2015, a year in which Pennsylvania seriously considered the issue with a variety of bills and hearings.
However, the budget is still not done, after Gov. Tom Wolf exercised a line-item veto to authorize some parts of the budget. The entire spending and revenue packages for the state’s fiscal year remain incomplete, leaving hope that a bill could be passed early in 2016.
More urgency on gaming expansion?
Pennsylvania is likely looking for ways to keep gaming revenues in the state and help its own casinos as its neighbors — New York and New Jersey — are working on their own gaming expansions.
The possible oversaturation of gambling in the region could lead to problems for Pennsylvania casinos, with online poker and casino games as a method to stave off bigger losses. Online casino and poker products actually complement brick-and-mortar gambling, a concept that is already in practice in New Jersey, but not New York.
While a bill passing in the winter vs. the spring might not seem like a big deal, it’s possible Pennsylvania might do everything in its power to help its own casinos out — and that might include passing an online gaming measure sooner rather than later.