In the past five years, only four states have managed to maneuver an online gaming bill through their legislature. Now, three of the four states have legalized online gambling and there is a chance that Pennsylvania will do the same.
Prior to the Pennsylvania Senate breaking for its summer recess, House Bill 2150 (pdf) was approved in the lower house on June 28 after being rejected by the House earlier. A controversial component of the proposed legislation that would have allowed up to five video gaming terminals (VGTs) to be installed in bars and taverns throughout the state was removed and an omnibus gaming reform bill was then passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by a vote of 114 to 85. The bill was then sent to the Senate for consideration.
In addition to allowing online gambling in the state, the proposed legislation would expand the number of slot machines and regulate daily fantasy sports. If the bill meets with success in the Senate, which is far from a sure bet, Governor Tom Wolf would still have to sign off on it. One thing the bill has in its favor is the fact that many believe in order for the state’s 2016/2017 budget process to be complete, money from some form of gaming expansion is necessary. Last month, House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said that approximately $400 million would be generated by the initial proposal, about half of which would come from the VGTs.
An alternative to a new gross receipts tax on natural gas sales, which was offered up last month by the governor’s staff as an alternative to increasing sales tax or personal income tax in the state, was offered as a funding source of a new $1.25 billion plan to help balance the pending budget. The plan, fashioned by House Republican leadership last week, includes an expansion of legalized gambling, which would contribute and estimated $247 million towards the party’s $918 million plan. However, heading into the holiday weekend the gaming bill’s future was a bit murkier. “A second part of the tax and revenue package – the proposed expansion of legal gambling – was said by negotiators to be so far apart Friday that it may have to be finished after the broader tax package is put together,” according to Penn Live.
A lot of the debate over gaming in the state and has to do with whether to allow satellite facilities to be opened by existing commercial casinos using an unused portion of their initial 5,000 slots machine allocation. Opponents, including Sands Bethlehem, which is also opposed to online gambling, say the satellite facilities and the widespread availability of the machines would water down the existing market.
Those issues, along with Governor Wolf’s uncertainty as to whether or not the revenue derived from the gambling expansion will be able to be sustained, and a balanced budget maintained for the long term, all come into play and will be a deciding factor of the fate of the online gambling bill.