It appears the battle to bring legal online gambling to Pennsylvania is going to need overtime.
Action was expected by the state Senate on a comprehensive gambling expansion bill before the end of June. The bill that includes measures to legalize, tax, and regulate internet poker and online casinos in PA.
The search for $32 million
However, local media is now reporting that state lawmakers will approve spending levels on a $32 billion budget by the end of the current budget year Friday. However, approval on the measures expected to pay for it will have to wait.
Apparently, Gov. Tom Wolf has ten days after passing the spending side of the budget bill to find the necessary taxes and fees to pay for it. Now it appears the legislature will use part of that time to finish up gambling expansion negotiations.
Passing the bill and the buck
The PA Senate passed a bill including several measures to expand gambling operations across Pennsylvania at the end of May.
The PA House then made a number of changes before passing the bill, and sending it back to the Senate.
At first glance, the biggest changes appeared to be the proposed tax rate for online gambling operations. The Senate bill proposed a 54 percent tax rate on online slots and casino table games. It also proposed a 16 percent tax rate on online poker. The House amended the bill to include a 16 percent tax rate on online gambling across the board.
Tax rates for casino games have remained a contentious issue, but apparently not the biggest one.
Video gaming terminals divide PA lawmakers
The House also amended the bill to include the authorization of video gaming terminals in liquor licensed establishments. The Senate had left VGTs out of its bill. VGTs are opposed by most casinos and industry stakeholders. All indications are this is where the negotiations are now stuck.
Supporters believe VGTs will help bar and tavern owners compete with casinos for customers. Opponents say they will only cannibalize the business of the state’s 12 existing commercial casinos. These casinos are already generating approximately $1.4 billion in tax revenue annually.
Heading into July
Much of the House is to be behind the VGT plan. However, it could effectively double the number of slot-style games across the state and the Senate is divided.
The hope was that legislators could find a way to pass online gambling legislation in Pennsylvania before the end of the month. Now it appears it will hang on consensus being found on the issue of VGT’s over the first ten days of July.