Pennsylvania Budget Framework In ‘Deep Peril’ Just As Online Gambling Bill Gains Traction

November 24, 2015
Pennsylvania Budget Framework In ‘Deep Peril’ Just As Online Gambling Bill Gains Traction

Online poker and gambling regulation had picked up momentum in Pennsylvania in the past week, but it’s possible that momentum could be slowed by serious issues between Republican lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf regarding the “framework” of a budget agreement.

The PA budget issues aren’t going away, it appears

While many observers and legislators had expressed optimism that the budget stalemate that had plagued Pennsylvania since the start of July would finally end, that optimism is getting ratcheted back in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. The big issue currently appears to be property tax relief. From Trib Live:

Wolf said GOP leaders told him last week that they cannot deliver the votes needed to pass the deal that would raise the state sales tax and cut school property taxes.

“Unfortunately, that framework looks like it is in peril, deep peril,” Wolf told a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon. He acknowledged that his hope for signing a budget by Thanksgiving was ambitious. “One of the blessings we cannot yet count is a budget for the state.”

Wolf later said he hoped to have a deal in place for the budget by Dec. 4, although it’s hard to see how that deadline can be reached if the framework is truly in peril, like Wolf says, unless that’s just rhetoric.

What role does online poker regulation play in the budget?

That’s a question that remains unanswered. The House Gaming Oversight Committee met last week, considered HB 649 and voted on it, passing it onto the full House by a vote of 18-8. (The full bill — which is now a giant gaming expansion package, and not just an online gaming bill — now includes all of the proposed expansions for gaming in Pennsylvania; the bill is now 213 pages in length.)

The bill also formally reached the House floor:

Despite the progress of the bill, it still has not been talked about overtly by any lawmakers as a central point in revenue generation that would create a balanced budget for the state.

As such, it’s unclear exactly how much weight to assign to the House GO Committee passing the bill. It’s possible that the bill represents just one potential avenue of revenue, with a jigsaw puzzle of other possible compromises over revenues and expenditures on the table.

What’s next for the PA online poker bill?

The bill could see a House vote; if passed, the bill would move to the Senate, where that chamber could take a closer look at the legislation.

A Senate committee already considered many of the gaming expansion topics added to HB 649 via another bill that also included online gambling regulation — SB 900.

While quick action on HB 649 isn’t a necessity for it to keep all of its traction, it would be a signal as to how much emphasis the Republican leadership is putting on gaming revenue as part of ongoing budget negotiations.

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