PA Senate Committee To Tackle Gambling Expansion This Week, And Possibly Online Gambling

April 17, 2017
PA Senate Committee To Tackle Gambling Expansion This Week, And Possibly Online Gambling

A Pennsylvania Senate committee will tackle gambling expansion in the state in a meeting on Tuesday, with online gambling possibly a part of the proceedings.

The latest on PA online gambling

The Senate Committee on Community, Economic and Recreational Development will deal with a gambling bill — H 271 — this week.

That bill might not seem like much on its face — the only language in it deals with authorizing tablet gaming in airports.

This bill is a very big deal. Right now, the plan is for that piece of legislation to be the vehicle for any gambling expansions that the state considers. That could include provisions authorizing online poker and gambling.

More from OPR, in an interview with state Rep. George Dunbar:

“We put in one thing, tablets in airports, and basically said, ‘You load it up with what you want in it,’ ” Dunbar said. “It puts the ball in their court.”

In 2016, the House passed a gambling expansion bill twice, only to see it die in the Senate. So this represents a new way at tackling the gambling issue in PA.

The Senate CERD Committee and the House Gaming Oversight Committee held a joint hearing on gambling issues — mainly iGaming — last month.

What’s next for the gambling bill

The House already passed the bill, by a wide margin, but it’s far from a done deal.

It’s not exactly clear what will happen in Tuesday’s meeting. But it appears the bill is going to be discussed and possibly amended with other gambling provisions. PA’s upper chamber will have to add its own gambling provisions, either in committee or later on the floor of the Senate.

If the Senate can come to a consensus on what the gambling bill will contain, it will have to head back to the House for concurrence.

The state is attempting to fund this fiscal year’s state budget — and next year’s — with new gambling revenue. That could include a number of things, with online gambling a prime candidate to provide meaningful revenue for state coffers. The discussions also come during a prolonged slide in casino revenue in the state, particularly from slot machines.

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Handicapping online gambling’s chances

Right now, it’s difficult to tell what kind of chances online gambling has to be in the final gambling bill.

While the state needs to tap new gaming revenue streams, not everyone is sold on iGaming. Namely, the state’s biggest casinos — Parx Casino in Philadelphia and Sands Bethlehem — oppose it.

Lawmakers are also making a new push for video gaming terminals in private establishments around the commonwealth. The legalization of these VGTs is one of the precious few other ways the state could generate new revenue of the same scale as online gambling.

The first indication of online gambling’s future may come out of Tuesday’s Senate committee hearing.

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