Despite Setback On Pennsylvania Online Gambling, Passage Of Bill Might Be Matter Of ‘When,’ Not ‘If’

December 17, 2015
Despite Setback On Pennsylvania Online Gambling, Passage Of Bill Might Be Matter Of ‘When,’ Not ‘If’

Pennsylvania gaming expansion bill — which includes the legalization and regulation of online gambling and poker as a key component — might face long odds to pass this year, but its chances appear to be good in early 2016.

The latest on the PA online gaming bill and the budget

The gaming expansion bill — HB 649 — had picked up some momentum in recent weeks, passing a committee vote in November. It was reportedly being considered for a full vote before the House as a funding mechanism for that chamber’s budget framework.

However, the idea that gaming expansion would be a part of the ongoing budget negotiations lost traction. The bill’s sponsor and House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman, John Payne, stated that some members of the Republican caucus wanted to use it to fund the budget.

Payne said that new gaming revenue had already been earmarked for the state pension program, and using gaming revenue now, as a part of the budget, would just create a problem later on. There were also no plans in the Senate to pass gaming expansion as it related to the budget.

So, according to Payne, gaming is off the table as far as the budget goes.

But the gaming bill isn’t dead in PA

But the bill is definitely still in play for next year as a way to fund the pension program. More from OPR:

“We’re back to the original plan,” Payne said.  And that plan according to Payne is to, “take gaming away from the budget process and put it on the shelf, and use it was originally intended for next spring.”

The bill likely is not in its final form — some amendments that are controversial have been added, including the ability for private establishment to have video gaming terminals (VGTs).

But online gaming and poker appear to be a centerpiece of the bill and do not appear to be headed for the chopping block. Whether the legislature and stakeholders like the casino industry can settle on a final bill that everyone can agree on is the biggest question, as online gaming could be scuttled by other, less popular gaming expansions.

What’s next in PA?

While the PA online gambling watch isn’t off entirely for 2015 — the bill still appears on the House calendar — it seems relatively safe to shift the focus to next year. What are the options?

  • The bill might be brought in front of the House as-is for a full vote, and it appears likely to pass in that form. It would then proceed to the Senate, which may attempt to make its own changes to the bill. The bill’s chances — at least in its current form — have been downplayed in the Senate, as the VGT amendment is being called “toxic” by sources familiar with the situation.
  • The bill could be amended before being brought back before the full House, making it more palatable to both a larger percentage of the House membership and the Senate.

Either way, if Payne’s assessment of the situation is accurate, the consideration of the gaming expansion bill will be on deck for next year. And that means regulation of online gambling will have its best chance of passing in any state in several years.

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