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Hold Please…Pennsylvania Gambling Expansion Bill Stuck In Legislature

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Hope is not lost. However, it is a disappointing week for Pennsylvania online gambling supporters. It looked oh-so-close to the bill becoming law, but infighting over video gambling terminals (VGTs) put everything at a standstill.

After many in the capital promised the bill would get through this week, it is still on hold. It could be as late as autumn before it passes.

Pennsylvania legislature now on recess

The State House and Senate remained in session following the Fourth of July to finalize the state budget. As part of that process, they were hoping to sign on a compromise for the gambling expansion bills.

The bill in the Senate featured high tax rates and online gambling, while the version passed in the House included online lottery, online gambling, lower tax rates, and VGTs.

From the outset, it was going to be difficult to get these groups to meet in the middle. As soon as the bill hit the House floor, the VGT opponents loudly spoke up. Unsurprisingly, that issue slowed down negotiations so much, the legislature recessed with the bill still on the table.

VGTs remains the make-or-break component of the bill

The good news for online gambling enthusiasts is that multiple sources reiterated that the addition of both online casinos and online poker were not causing problems. The VGTs, on the other hand, are the problem.

The list of VGT opponents is pretty varied too. Not only do most casinos not want them. Several lawmakers are concerned their districts will suffer when, in their minds, there is a casino on basically every corner.

“I still have concerns (about VGTs),” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman told Penn Live while the group was still deliberating.

“But I have a lot of members in my caucus who are very big supporters of it so I’m trying to work with them to see if there’s a way to navigate through the issues so that people who are not supportive can be comfortable,” he added.

Even with Corman and others working to compromise, the bill came up short of the votes needed before recess.

Online gambling could still happen this year

Normally when a legislature goes on recess, that means the end of hope for a bill. In this instance though, this bill still has plenty of opportunities to pass.

The budget situation is dire in Pennsylvania. The budget approved is one for how much the state will spend in the next fiscal year. What is not resolved is how they will pay for it.

Gov. Tom Wolf sent back several budget proposals from the state legislature. With a budget deficit over $1 billion, Wolf wants long-term solutions to financial problems. Since online gambling fits that bill, it is still drawing very live to pass this year.

Currently, state lawmakers are on call. They can be summoned back to Harrisburg on six hour’s notice. With this status, it might only take a few weeks to get the bill through. In reality, it will probably be a few months before the bill faces a final vote.

About

Jessica Welman is the managing editor of PlayPennsylvania. A longtime poker media presence, Jess has worked as a tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour, co-hosted a podcast for Poker Road, and served as the managing editor for WSOP.com.