“Saga” is a good way to describe the road Pennsylvania’s current gambling bill has traveled during the past three years.
However, the long story should be coming to an end soon as lawmakers work toward finalizing the bill. Experts predict the legislature will pass the bill, but revisions and changes may push the final vote to this fall.
The bill’s main components are the introduction of online gambling in Pennsylvania and video gaming terminals.
One big victory for PA online gambling effort
In 2016, the PA House passed a gambling bill, but it languished in the Senate and never made it to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk. It wasn’t quite a slow death or a fiery crash-and-burn, but more of an ambivalent evaporation. Despite the shortcoming, this ambivalence gave proponents hope a bill would eventually pass in some form.
A variation on the bill appeared before the House and Senate this year and made it further than its predecessor. The big victory? The legislature passed the state’s 2017-18 budget, which includes provisions for online gambling.
Ironically, Wolf practiced a little ambivalence himself by not vetoing or signing the budget. By Pennsylvania law, that meant the budget passed. Still, the Senate and House must collaborate with the governor to figure out all the details that will make the budget work.
VGTs could sink the bill again
If there’s one reservation shared by most experts about the bill, it’s the matter of video gaming terminals (VGTs).
Allowing VGTs in non-casino businesses could attract local gamblers who might otherwise visit a land-based Pennsylvania casino. This is essentially the anti-online gambling argument known as cannibalization.
If the House draws a hard line on VGTs, the gambling bill could languish for months as lawmakers wrangle, filibuster, and entrench themselves in their respective camps. Add in the fact that there are several other contentious parts of the budget, and it’s a chaotic battleground.
Ironically, this possibility is exactly what lawmakers say they don’t want.
One Philly.com headline from earlier this month says it all: “Pa. Capitol, it’s all about avoiding a stalemate.”
“Gov. Wolf, backed by many Democrats, has supported revenue proposals that include imposing a new tax on natural gas extraction and expanding the state’s 6 percent sales tax to services and items that are currently exempt,” the Philly.com story reported. “Republicans, who control both legislative chambers, have rejected tax increases. Instead, they have been discussed expanding gambling and further privatizing alcohol sales in the state.”