Pennsylvania’s budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year is finally complete — even though said budget was nine months late.
The bad news for those hoping to see online poker and gambling in Pennsylvania? Regulation of iGaming was not included in that budget.
The good news? The new budget is due in a few months, and it still appears that online gaming will be seriously considered this spring.
The old budget and online gambling, not meant to be
Online gambling was a real part of Pennsylvania budget negotiations for at least a short time in the fall.
The bill that was originally an online gaming-only bill — HB 649 — became an omnibus gaming expansion package and passed a committee vote in the fall. The bill made it to the full House, but never saw a vote.
Rep. John Payne — the bill’s sponsor and the chairman of the House gaming committee — explained at the time that some members of the Republican majority had seen the gaming package as a way to fund the current year’s budget.
That idea, while it gained traction in the short term, was quashed, and the discussion was put off to a later date. Part of the problem was that some of the bill’s provisions faced an uncertain future in the Senate, including a provision allowing video gaming terminals in taverns.
Meanwhile, online gambling continued to be a non-controversial part of the discussion.
The new budget: Discussions have already begun
The budget for fiscal year 2016-2017 is due by the end of June, and talks between Gov. Tom Wolf and Republicans have already begun. As Pennsylvania has proven, however, that June 30 deadline is all but meaningless.
Whether online gambling will be a part of the budget talks moving forward is unknown right now, but it’s certainly a possibility. While the original intent of online gaming was to move forward independent of the budget process, there’s also a very good chance online gaming and other gambling expansions are considered as a way to fund the budget, once again.
Either way, online gaming by itself could account for tens of millions of dollars in revenue just in licensing fees in Year One, so it certainly appears that it’s going to get a real look again this year in PA. After all, the state again appears to be facing a deficit, and all avenues for creating new revenue are being considered.
The states’ lawmakers have already done a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of considering online gambling and its impacts, which could bode well this time around.
Is 2016 the last, real shot for online gambling in PA?
In the background is the stark reality that the two champions of online poker and gambling legislation in the state — Payne and the Democratic chair of the House gaming committee, Nick Kotik — will be stepping down after their current terms are complete.
Without these two at the helm, will anyone in the state still push for online gambling legalization moving forward? While it’s certainly possible, losing both of these proponents of iGaming regulation would be a blow to efforts in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania certainly looks like it could get an online gambling bill to the finish line this year. But if it doesn’t, it might face a murky future.