The latest on online gambling
Last week, the PA House once again passed an omnibus gambling expansion bill, piggybacking on language it passed this summer. That included both a fix for the casino host tax that the state Supreme Court struck down — which has an impact of greater than $100 million — and online gambling legalization.
That put the ball in the Senate’s court, which has been slow to act on any gaming issues in the current calendar year.
The latest? The Morning Call reports that the Senate won’t vote on a gambling bill this year, but that the upper body of the legislature is prepared to deal with the casino tax problem:
But Senate leaders say dozens of Pennsylvania municipalities that rely on $142 million in annual host fee payments to balance their budgets need not panic, because they have a plan to keep the money flowing. …
“Any municipality preparing their budget can book the casino number they we’re expecting because it’s probable revenue,” said Sen. Pat Browne, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee who is also a tax attorney and accountant. “We may not have a deal before the court deadline, but we’ll have it settled before they miss a check. I believe that.”
The court ruling stops tax payments based on the unconstitutional law near the end of January.
What’s that mean for online gambling?
Dealing with the casino tax is something that has an almost 100 percent certainty of happening in the legislature before the January deadline. The state is not going to let casino jurisdictions take a massive hit to their budgets.
The question then becomes: Will online gambling, or any other gaming provisions, be tied to the casino tax?
The prospects for action on iGaming had seemed dim before the November elections anyway, with a chance that action could still happen this month.
The Senate has appeared hell-bent on not doing what the House wants to do. The gambling expansion bill the House just passed was originally sent there by the Senate, just as a casino tax fix.
It amounts to the equivalent of an unending ping-pong rally, with the House wanting to take of a number of gambling issues in fell swoop, and the Senate being unwilling to do the same.
More from the MC:
“We told the House before, we don’t have consensus on I-gaming, yet they chose to load it into the host fee bill,” said Sen. Jake Corman, Senate majority leader. “That basically killed it for this session.”
That is despite the fact that the legislature still needs to pass a gambling bill that accounts for $100 million promised to the state budget, totally separate from the casino tax issue.
Next year for iGaming?
Online gambling could be taken up again next year, certainly. But that effort will run into several problems:
- Legislation will have to start over from scratch, with a new bill being introduced, making its way through committee hearings and ultimately votes in the two chambers. At least the House appears to be happy with the language it has developed on iGaming, and that is the starting point.
- Rep. John Payne — the champion of online gambling in the legislature — is retiring. He won’t be around to push online gambling regulation forward.
- The added time could give lawmakers a chance to find other ways to raise the $100 million promised to the budget, even though that may not be easy, either. But passing any type of tax increase would be more palatable after the elections than it is right now.
It all adds up to the fact that the waiting game for PA online casinos and poker continues.