Pennsylvania Lawmakers Approve Expanded Gaming

  • Pennsylvania Lawmakers Approve Expanded Gaming

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Approve Expanded Gaming

Pennsylvania lawmakers hope a broad expansion of gambling will help plug the state's $2.3 billion deficit.

The bill was then passed to the State House on Thursday, with 109 representatives voting in favour and 72 voting against H-271.

Speaking after the House vote, Joe Weinert, executive vice-president of Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey-based consultancy, said the bill was one of the most "aggressive" he has ever seen.

After a frenetic two days of action in the General Assembly, Pennsylvania has joined Nevada, New Jersey, and DE in the fraternity of states that have regulated and licensed online casino gaming and/or poker.

New Jersey, which has the nation-leading internet gambling market, would welcome the expansion of player pools and prizes, if it reaches a reciprocal agreement with Pennsylvania gambling regulators. The expanded gambling portions of the plan would raise $200 million toward closing the $2 billion budget gap this fiscal year, according to estimates. Again in June, when the previous iteration of the bill set the license application fee at $5 million, Schippers told The Morning Call, "If this bill passes as is, you're going to hear crickets, because no casino is going to buy a license".

Beyond that, he's not convinced it's wise to keep offering new ways to gamble to shore up the state budget. Furthermore, there will be 10 "mini-casinos" allowed to open throughout the state and, should the federal government drop laws preventing the states from doing so, online and live sports betting would be authorized.

It also would require casinos to pay a $10 million payment annually to their host communities, in an effort to reinstate a mandate struck down more than a year ago by the state Supreme Court.

It remains to be seen if the tax rate and fees will be changed before the bill becomes law, but the Governor could just give the legislation his autograph as is and that's it.

With expansion come increased taxes, however. He said the bill carried a raft of unintended consequences, including a definition of truck stops that is "so broad, anything you think of as a convenience store is a truck stop".

"The House could still do the right thing and vote on a severance tax", he said Thursday.

The provision allowing truck stops to operate up to five slot-machine-style machines, called video gaming terminals, caught the attention of House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Scott Petri, R-Bucks. It was actually penciled into the budget in 2016, but gridlock in Harrisburg and the reluctance of legislators on both sides to expanding gambling in the state kept the legislation from being passed.

The plan, if adopted, would definitely result in higher overall gambling revenues in Pennsylvania, Weinert said.