PA Online Gambling, Poker Bill Set For Vote… Soon?

December 10, 2015
PA Online Gambling, Poker Bill Set For Vote… Soon?

A bill that would legalize online gambling in Pennsylvania is awaiting a vote in the state House of Representatives, but its fate is uncertain in the middle of the state’s budget impasse.

The status of the PA online gambling bill

HB 649 is being taken seriously, at least on the House side. The legislation — which is a major gaming expansion package that includes online gaming among its provisions — passed a committee vote in November. However, all had been silent on its prospects in the weeks following the vote.

Then, the bill came back on the radar this week, and it had been reported that it would come up for a vote before the full House on both Wednesday and Thursday; no such vote occurred.

On Wednesday, the bill was amended in several ways, including a provision that would allow video gaming terminals in some private establishments. That amendment could prove toxic, especially in the Senate and possibly in the House, which only approved the addition 96-93.

The House is now adjourned until Saturday, the next time the bill might be voted on.

The gaming bill and the budget

The revenue that would be generated by HB 649 — in terms of licensing fees and taxes — is being used as one possible avenue to fund the House version of the budget.

The two bodies have had differing views on how the budget should progress, even though the Senate has an agreement with Gov. Tom Wolf on the framework of a budget — a framework the House budget diverges from.

Even if the bill passes the House — which seems likely but not guaranteed — there is no such guarantee in the Senate, where Republicans have indicated there is not necessarily support for the gaming expansion package.

What is next for the PA gaming bill?

It’s not clear why there is a hold-up on a vote on the bill.

The vote did not come on Wednesday because of the amendments were added. The adjournment of the House on Thursday came pretty suddenly, and was not a popular move, based on boos in the chamber.

There’s also no guarantee that a vote will happen Saturday; it’s certainly possible that the representatives behind the bill could be rethinking its contents to help its chances in the Senate. Casinos reportedly are not happy with the addition of the VGT amendment, a problem that could scuttle the entire bill if it remains.

Right now, the online gaming bill is in a holding pattern, but that could certainly change quickly with all the moving parts in the state budget battle.

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