Players Still Waiting for Pennsylvania Online Gambling Decision
The best poker players are patient. They know the game often requires them to wait for playable hands and good opportunities. It can sometimes lead to long periods of little action, maybe winning a small pot or picking up the blinds, but the wait can pay off when the right hand is played against the right opponent for a pot that changes the game.
For seasoned players, the wait for Pennsylvania online poker legalization has been frustrating and long, sometimes seeming like a useless endeavor. Years of waiting for legislators to make the right moves and realize the quality of the pot may be finally coming to an end, however, and the players have great odds to win. It doesn’t make the wait any less exasperating, though.
Lawmakers seem poised to pass a gambling expansion bill that includes online gambling, though they must work out the details for the House and Senate to come to a final agreement. Reports say they were in serious discussions this week, and the bill is very close to approval. The week ends with those talks still ongoing and weekend work to continue.
Poker players continue to wait.
Small but Significant Steps Taken
The Pennsylvania legislature ended its session on June 30 without passing a gambling expansion bill, but they did accomplish a key objective. The House and Senate agreed on a spending bill to send to Governor Tom Wolf.
The problem with the spending deal was that it cost $32 billion dollars, and legislators still needed to give the governor a plan for how the state would overcome a several-billion-dollar deficit. Therefore, they agreed to return to the state capitol during the first week of July to work on the details.
One of those details was a gambling expansion bill. The major points of the bill, such as daily fantasy sports, online lottery sales, and online gambling, were supported by a majority of the House and Senate and passed thusly. The point of contention was video gaming terminals, something added by the House to its bill but opposed by the Senate. Online gambling depended on VGTs.
Online gambling alone has the potential to add approximately $230 million to the state’s revenue in the first year, not to mention new jobs and added revenue for the participating casinos. Even the governor reportedly supported that part of the gambling expansion bill.
The Current Lowdown
As the first week of the special session came to an end, no deal had been reached. But a report from Harrisburg on Thursday indicated progress had been made. Legislators tasked with the negotiations were “almost finished writing compromise legislation” on July 6, and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati indicated the gambling expansion bill was a step toward filling the budget gap.
Scarnati gave no details about the segments of the bill that were still in play, but he did suggest that VGTs were out of the legislation. According to an interview last week in which Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas spoke to Legal US Poker Sites, the VGT issue was the one item that could kill the bill entirely if no compromise was reached. “The only holdup is VGTs,” Pappas said. “I think the VGTs are a bump in the road, and it’s resolvable.”
Pappas seems to have been correct. With Scarnati indicating the removal of VGT provisions from the bill, other details were negotiable. Pappas opined last week that the differences between the House and Senate tax rates and licensing fees for online gambling were not deal breakers. The primary and most significant discrepancy was the tax rate for online casinos, which the Senate set at 54% but the House wanted at 16%. Most, including Pappas, were convinced a middle ground could be negotiated.
The gambling expansion bill will help with the budget for the coming year and many years in the future. Legislators were also exploring other taxes and ways to borrow money to fill the rest of the gap, but the gambling solution would indicate that the legislative bodies were able to work together for a solution to a part of the problem.
There is a deadline. Governor Wolf has 10 days to sign the budget package, and the expiration date on that deal is Monday, July 10, at midnight. That means lawmakers are working through the weekend and into Monday if necessary, as Wolf needs the complete package in a matter of a few days.
PA Senate reconvenes on Saturday. Looks like the iGaming/DFS wait heads into the weekend.
— Dustin Gouker (@DustinGouker) July 7, 2017
Poker players aren’t the only ones waiting to see what happens. Casinos, lottery officials, and many more interested parties are hoping to hear positive news from the legislature before the end of the day Monday. Pennsylvania is poised to become the fourth state in America to legalize and regulate online poker, and the public will know soon enough if that will happen.
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