New Legislature, Same Story? Lawmakers To Ponder PA Online Gambling Regulations

Posted on January 2, 2017 - Last Updated on January 8, 2020

[toc]Pennsylvania legislators are convening tomorrow to swear in newly-elected members, and, according to the Associated Press, will gather for a closed-door meeting about the state’s tumultuous online gambling bill.

The meeting, Sen. Kim Ward said, will focus on coming up with action-oriented solutions to a number of gambling issues that have festered among lawmakers and pundits alike for the past year.

The main issues in dispute are:

  • A casino host fee that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania deemed unconstitutional.
  • Legalization of online gambling.

The most recent version of the omnibus gambling bill (legal speak for a lot of various laws packed into one bill) includes a host fee and online gambling. The bill was a no-go for the Senate, which said the bill died the moment the House added the provision for a casino host fee.

What once seemed like a promising bill has now degenerated into the House forcing a buffet of legislation on a Senate that wants to take it one course at a time.

Sorting it all out: PA online gambling and host fees

The Supreme Court’s decision about host fees wasn’t a death knell for the communities relying on the tax to buoy their infrastructures.

The court gave the Pennsylvania General Assembly 120 days to draft a new version of the tax that was constitutional — the original fee wasn’t “fair” to casinos with smaller revenues.

As we mentioned earlier, the Senate approved a replacement tax bill, but when the House sent it back, online gambling and slots were added to the casino tax. The state’s lawmakers are on the clock now, as the 120-day deadline will arrive before the end of this month.

In the meantime, casinos have worked out deals with their host communities. For example, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced an agreement with Rivers Casino last month in which the city would receive $10 million to make up for the nixed host fee.

Will the house bend, or will the Senate break?

Though the legislation and surrounding issues are pretty complex, whether lawmakers decide to legalize Pennsylvania online casinos, host fees, and additional slots gambling depends on the lawmakers themselves.

Will the House agree to pass a casino tax that isn’t attached to an online gambling/slots bill, or will the Senate bow to the demands of the House and approve an omnibus bill that includes its host fee?

If this bill’s history is any indication of what it will take to get something done, compromise will surely have to take place.

In terms of importance to local economies, it seems like the casino host fee law would be passed first (and separate from online gambling and slots) to alleviate concerns and budget shortfalls.

From there, the Assembly could then work out the details of additional slots gambling and iGaming, both of which could boost the state’s ailing economy.

Whatever the course, don’t expect any decisions to be made this week. The House and Senate will meet again on Jan. 23.

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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren is a freelance writer and author, and has won the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism award three times. He contributes to numerous publications, including Snooth, the Villages Daily Sun, Bespoke Post, and Barcelona Metropolitan.

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