Pennsylvania is inching closer to legalizing online poker and gambling this week, when a bill containing iGaming regulation passed the House of Representatives.
It sets up a possible mad dash to the finish line for a massive gambling bill in the state that would also regulate daily fantasy sports and authorize the expansion of slot machines at new locations.
If the bill is passed, it will add to the nation-leading amount of revenue the state generates from gambling.
Setting the stage for PA online gambling and the budget
Pennsylvania’s legislature is set to adjourn on June 30, the same day that the budget for the upcoming fiscal year is due. There had been indications that progress on the gambling bill would be coming sometime this month, although it’s becoming a last-minute proposition.
At least on the House side, the gambling expansion (HB 2150) and online gambling are being counted on to provide revenue for the state budget. Whether the Senate and Gov. Tom Wolf will agree to that sentiment is an open question.
Last year, of course, a full budget wasn’t passed until nine months after that deadline. With 2016 being an election year, the sense is that the legislature will try to get a budget done, and may extend adjournment until a deal is reached.
Gambling, in or out of the budget?
Wolf, speaking generally about the budget plan and not specifically about gambling, said the House budget isn’t balanced:
With two days until the state’s 2016-17 fiscal year deadline, Wolf refused to endorse the House’s spending plan that he said does not include enough revenue to “truly” address a long-term deficit. He said he hoped the Senate would fix the flaws.
“I haven’t agreed to this and as far as I can tell, there’s still some things to be worked out,” Wolf said during a regularly scheduled appearance on KQV-AM radio in Pittsburgh.
There has been little public opposition to the gambling bill from Wolf or the Senate, but things can change quickly in the middle of budget negotiations.
However, the appetite for significantly raising taxes in an election year is likely approaching zero, and the gambling bill can provide $200 million or more in revenue very quickly. Online gambling would likely provide $100 million in licensing fees, alone.
The actions of the Senate today and tomorrow could tell us if they are prepared to send the gambling package to Wolf.
One casino, still against it
The casino industry is generally behind the online gambling bill. But one casino — not shockingly — is still against it.
That is the Sands Bethlehem, which is owned by long-time online gambling opponent Sheldon Adelson.
The shocking part is that Sands might take part in Pennsylvania online gambling, given the chance. From the Morning Call:
While most casino executives across the state support that, Sands continues to oppose the online gambling part of the bill, thoughCEO Mark Juliano said it would not have been a deal-breaker.
“Fundamentally opposed to online gaming, yes,” he said. “But would it keep us from investing? Probably not.”