Pennsylvania Online Gambling Under Consideration to Shore Budget Woes in Next Legislative Session

Posted on: June 2, 2016, 12:54h. 

Last updated on: June 2, 2016, 03:03h.

Pennsylvania online gambling will be getting another in the state legislature when the Keystone State’s budget talks resume on June 6.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf online gambling 
Governor Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Republicans will bring online gambling back to the House chamber when the legislature reconvenes on June 6. Word is that the governor is likely to sign online gambling bills only if they accompany amendments to the state’s current tax structure. (Image: Emma Lee/WHYY)

In late May, a proposed amendment was added to House Bill 1925 that would have authorized Internet gaming. The amendment was overwhelmingly shot down and thus stripped from the legislative bill that covered how gaming revenues are to be distributed.

It was a seeming defeat for online gambling proponents, but hope remained as Pennsylvania Republicans said Rep. John Payne’s (R-District 106) iGambling bill HB 649 was still on the table. The proposed amendment in HB 1925 was essentially Payne’s bill, but mirrored.

The House chamber will reconvene on June 6 for 17 final scheduled session days for the 2016 fiscal year. That means the House will be scrambling to pass a 2017 budget to the state Senate.

However, among the 52 bills on the calendar for the remaining sessions is HB 649.

“We wanted to kind of test it out in May,” State House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-District 62) told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Karen Langley. “When we come back in June it will be full guns a-blazing trying to get a budget done, and that will be part of that process.”

Weighing Online Gaming Against Raising Taxes

 If you’re wondering why Republicans in Pennsylvania, typically the party more opposed to expanding gambling, would want online gaming to be considered in the Keystone State, the answer is rather simple: it’s better than raising taxes.

For Pennsylvanians, it seems like yesterday that the state legislature was trying to come to grips with first-term Governor Tom Wolf (D) on a budget. And that’s because it was just March when the 2015-2016 budget was finally passed into law, a full 267 days late.

Wolf actually never even signed that budget, but simply allowed it to become law without his John Hancock.

And now, it’s déjà vu in Harrisburg.

Wolf wants to continue spending more money that the state doesn’t have and is recommending the Republican-controlled legislature approve some sort of tax increase to bridge a $1 billion budget gap, which Wolf largely blames on pensions.

Payne, along with other Pennsylvania conservatives, would like to see revenues from the expansion of gaming to the Internet play a role in funding Wolf’s ballooning expenditures.

Gambling on the Outcome

In addition to considering online gambling, the Pennsylvania House is also expected to once again deliberate whether to allow airports and off-track betting facilities to offer slot machines. Bars and truck stops could also be authorized to run video lottery terminals.

Wolf’s staff has suggested that the governor wouldn’t be opposed to signing online gaming legislation, should the legislature also approve new revenue sources: meaning, in short, more taxes.

Wolf and the Pennsylvania General Assembly haven’t exactly played nice since the governor came to Harrisburg in 2015.

It’s more than possible that Wolf would veto an Internet bill, if it doesn’t come to his desk with accompanying tax increase measures. To override Wolf’s veto, two-thirds support of both the state House and Senate would be required.

If there’s one thing that the odds seem to favor, it’s that the talks beginning on June 6 will persist for many weeks, if not months.