Online gambling looked like it would have a real chance to pass in Pennsylvania in 2015 — at least for a short period of time.
That enthusiasm died down quickly, as Republican leadership in the state legislature indicated it did not want a gambling expansion package to be earmarked as a part of the state budget.
However, the sentiment about keeping iGaming and the budget separate came at a time when it appeared like the governor and lawmakers had gotten on the same page in ending a six-month budget standoff. After approving a partial budget via a line-item veto, Gov. Tom Wolf showed he and House Republicans are still far apart on a number of important expenditure issues, and how much to spend on the budget.
Where are we now? Online gambling likely remains on the sidelines during the budget impasse, for now, but it’s still very much in play for 2016.
Online gambling, not a part of the budget?
A gambling expansion package was at least a possible part of a budget revenue plan for a short time, in the eyes of some Republicans in the House. That’s according to the sponsor of online gaming and expansion bill, HB 649, Rep. John Payne.
He told Online Poker Report that revenue from gaming is currently earmarked for dealing with a deficit in pension spending; putting gambling revenue into the budget would just create problems down the road, Payne indicated.
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“[Gaming] was like plan 1,000,” for the budget, Payne quipped.
“I know we’re desperate here,” Payne said, recounting a conversation with members of his caucus, “but if we do that then you must be voting next spring for a tax increase for the structural deficit on the pension plan.”
Does that mean there’s no chance online gambling and the larger gambling expansion package makes into the budget framework? Not at all. Given the fluid situation surrounding the budget — the status of which changes almost daily — it would probably surprise no one to see gaming expansion make it back into the conversation.
The odds of that happening are perhaps not great, but they are at least greater than zero.
Gambling expansion bill: Coming this spring?
Even if online gambling, as part of a gambling expansion package, doesn’t come this winter, Payne believes it will be something the legislature considers this spring.
Still, online gambling has now become a part of a larger overall gaming expansion effort in the state, and that brings with it potential pitfalls.
When online gambling has been considered on its own merits earlier in 2015, it was largely noncontroversial. The questions about iGaming were in many ways logistical and practical, not whether the state should or shouldn’t have it.
Now, however, every potential gaming expansion in the state has been lumped into HB 649, which started as an online-only bill. Now it contains far more controversial elements, such as the ability of private establishments to offer video gaming terminals. (The House amended HB 649 to include VGTs, and Senate Republicans indicated at one point that they didn’t have the votes to pass the gaming bill as-is, with VGTs included.)
The final form of HB 649 may well be key to whether we see online gambling in PA in 2016. If unpopular measures remain a part of the plan, then the bill could die in the legislative process. If it’s trimmed down to include measures that lawmakers and gaming interests can agree on, then Pennsylvanians might be playing online poker by this time next year.