Pennsylvania Still Considering Online Gaming As Session Winds Down

Posted on October 26, 2016 - Last Updated on October 27, 2016

[toc]Efforts to legalize online casino games in Pennsylvania were coming down to the wire on Wednesday, as lawmakers also looked to fix a gaming industry tax issue.

Keystone State lawmakers were in session on Tuesday and signed off on a plan to keep the tax revenue alive for communities with a casino. Another key vote on that plan was scheduled for Wednesday.

The proposal calls for the local share tax to be extended until the spring, which would give lawmakers more time to hash out a permanent fix.

The legislation that saw amendments was House Bill No. 1887.

How the tax situation arose

This fall, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the local tax on casinos was unconstitutional because it affected properties differently.

Some host communities were immediately threatened with the loss of $10 million in tax revenue from slot machines. More than $100 million in total statewide was in jeopardy thanks to the ruling.

Smaller Pennsylvania casinos argued that they were burdened disproportionately by the tax code.

Pennsylvania began casino gambling about a decade ago, and that’s when the tax law was created. Host communities have relied on their cut of slot machine revenue for quite some time.

Online gaming not in the equation

According to reporting from GamblingCompliance’s Sara Friedman, nine out of the state’s 12 casinos were behind a letter sent to lawmakers saying that the industry would prefer internet gaming over “any additional tax.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if their position would have any effect on the plan to extend the local share tax without any help from online gaming.

Tax revenue from online gaming was included in a budget that the legislature approved, but the delay has been in the Senate.

Because Governor Tom Wolf approved the budget deal, it’s assumed that he would sign legislation for online casinos.

The Pennsylvania House approved online gaming (House Bill No. 2150) this past summer, prior to the state Supreme Court ruling.

According to Rep. John Payne (R-Dauphin), sponsor of the online gaming bill, the Senate has been on the fence about whether it wants to approve online gaming this year or in the near future.

There’s not really a particular reason why it could go either way.

In Pennsylvania, it’s thus a matter of time before online poker is regulated. However, with no additional states approving online casino games over the past three years, many think Keystone State authorization should come now.

Last chances in 2016 for PA online gambling

The Pennsylvania legislative process is set up such that any bills not passed Wednesday will not receive consideration prior to the session ending on Nov. 30.

However, as the Associated Press pointed out, Senate leaders could go the route of scheduling a last-minute vote on the online gaming bill anytime before then. Doing so would require a greater political effort, so that’s why this week has been seen as internet gaming’s unofficial last chance.

Once December arrives, it’s on to 2017. Payne said that a brand new bill would have to be drafted, and it would need to pass the House again.

Payne is retiring at the end of this session, so the issue will have to be spearheaded by someone else. Rep. George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland), who is Payne’s House Gaming Oversight Committee colleague, is behind the daily fantasy sports legislation that could also be shelved until 2017.

Image c/o Harvey Barrison / FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0

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