Pennsylvania Still Seen as the Next State to Legalize iGaming

Assemblymember John Payne’s iGaming bill HB 649 was originally introduced as a way to fund the state’s depleted pension budget.

The legislation would allow existing land-based casinos to partner with online gambling software operators to offer iGaming to those inside the borders of the Commonwealth. The state would receive a 14% cut of operators’ gross gaming revenue and could reap as much as $8 million in license fees per casino as soon as the industry becomes regulated.

Budget Crisis

But not only does the pension plan need to be worked out, state lawmakers are still bickering over the details of an overdue budget package which was meant to be finalized last year. With that in mind, Payne’s bill was suddenly considered as a potential piece in the overall budget plan, but some lawmakers

remarked that diverting the money would be like “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

At the end of the year, lawmakers rushed to try to come to a consensus on the budget framework. In early December, Senate Republicans passed a $30.8 billion budget proposal, which was backed by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf. House GOP members, however, rejected the plan as too expensive and instead presented their own solution.

Their package would earmark less money for the state school system, and be funded in part by online gambling, along with an increase on cigarette tax. But even after late night sessions at the state assembly, lawmakers were not able to come to an agreement by the end of the year.

Pensions still the focus

While some regarded HB 649 to be dead at that point, John Payne recently assured that the bill was still alive and well, and was back to its original goal of shoring up the state pension fund. According to Payne, the legislation is still on the table and is included in the 2016 calendar. He also reminded that 11 out of the state’s 12 casinos back the plan to legalize online gambling, signaling that there will be little pushback on such a measure. The lone holdout is, of course, Sands Bethlehem, the casino owned by online gambling opponent Sheldon Adelson.

It’s unclear whether HB 649 will be included with other gambling proposals, like the expansion of videogame terminals, or if it will be pushed as a standalone measure. As part of a larger gambling package, the bill runs the risk of being sunk by any number of “poison” amendments.

If the state can successfully legalize iGaming this year, it will give a much-needed boost to the fledgling industry, which is only legal in three US states currently. On the other hand, if lawmakers failed to make progress on the issue in 2016, it would be a major blow to online gambling operators, and those waiting until the market matures to open up shop.