Pennsylvania Online Gambling Bill Shelved Until Legislature Reconvenes This Fall

Posted on: July 13, 2016, 03:51h. 

Last updated on: July 13, 2016, 05:51h.

Pennsylvania online gambling Sheldon Adelson
Billionaire and anti-Internet gambling proponent Sheldon Adelson is likely pleased to learn Pennsylvania online gambling is being delayed until at least the fall. (Image: Associated Press/

Pennsylvania online gambling is being pushed aside in Harrisburg until the fall. That’s the unfortunate outcome for iGambling proponents after lawmakers in the Keystone State labored over gambling expansion legislation for the last several months.

At 12:01 am on July 12, Governor Tom Wolf (D) allowed a bipartisan budget plan to become law without his signature. The $31.5 billion expenditure blueprint will increase spending on education and provide resources to combat the state’s heroin epidemic.

The primary issue is how to pay for it. Depending on who’s counting, the appropriations bill creates a $1-2 billion shortfall.

Largely pushed by Republicans in the General Assembly, gambling expansion has been seen as one ideal untapped resource that could help pay for the plan. But the legislature is expected to adjourn for the summer and not reconvene until sometime this fall.

Gambling on Hold

Led by State Rep. John Payne (R-District 106), the gambling expansion in question would have authorized off-track betting facilities and airports to house slot machines, regulate daily fantasy sports (DFS), and legalize online gambling.

Current land-based casinos would be the only ones permitted to offer Internet gambling. Licenses were expected to cost operators $8 million, with gross gaming revenues taxed at 16 percent.

“Regulating and taxing interactive gaming in Pennsylvania is a viable option that would benefit the state and our communities,” Payne said in late June. “Before we ask the taxpayers to fork over more of their hard-earned money, we must consider innovative revenue sources to fill our budget shortfall and keep our public pension system solvent.”

Gambling certainly won’t overcome the billion-dollar gap, but it would help.

Lawmakers estimate $100 million would be generated for Harrisburg in the first year alone largely due to upfront licensing fees. That means five to 10 percent of the budget gap could be solved through gambling expansion.

State leaders are also targeting an additional $1 tax on each pack of cigarettes sold, imposing a six percent tax on digital entertainment downloads, and overhauling the state-run wine industry to allow private merchants to enter the market.

Spend Now, Pay Later

Anyone with a credit card knows how important it is to pay on time. Unfortunately for residents in Pennsylvania, their elected leaders aren’t as financially versed.

State Sen. Pat Browne (R-District 16), chairman of the state’s Senate Appropriations Committee, says action will be forthcoming.

“One hundred million dollars in the scope of a $31.5 billion budget . . . it’s not needed right away,” Browne told the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Lehigh County senator added, however, that the odds of online gambling being reconsidered this fall are “probable.”

Wolf was justly upset that the General Assembly didn’t send him a calculated way to pay for its budget.

“The General Assembly has a constitutional responsibility to pass a sustainable revenue package to pay for what they want to spend,” Wolf said this week. “We owe it to taxpayers, our children, seniors, and our most vulnerable to bring this across the finish line.”