Pennsylvania Fails Again with Budget Deal

by Kyle Miller

The saga continues in Pennsylvania when it comes to budget deals and online gambling, as yet another effort has failed.

Yesterday, the Pennsylvania House was unable to pass a revenue package that would be used to fund the budget for the state. Because of the failure, chaos has erupted in the capital and lawmakers must continue to try and work out details to not only create a budget but determine how gambling fits in with an expansion in several areas being considered.

Wasn’t This Package Supposed to Pass?

Governor Tom WolfMany thought that Pennsylvania was on the brink of passing their budget and getting rolling on expanding gaming in the state, with online options included. It seems lawmakers were close to cutting a deal in regards to the budget and that everyone would be on board, including Governor Tom Wolf. However, it was not meant to be. Now, players who wanted to have access to online gaming and operators that wanted to offer services will have to wait even longer as the current budget deal fell apart.

The House Republican leadership has been supposed to produce a revenue package that will work towards funding a shortfall of more than $2 billion in the state budget. Everyone involved seemed to be positive that an approved deal was coming to the table and would do so this week.

It seemed the package would be ready by this past Tuesday night and then by no later than Wednesday morning. However, by today, the deal was pulled off the table and no progress made after. A package never emerged and now online gambling as well as much-needed money for the state sits in limbo.

What’s the Problem?

Now it seems an increase in the state hotel tax is the problem with any package moving forward. Yesterday, democrats of the House tried to bring back a severance tax for Marcellus Shale. This didn’t work. A press conference was then held by Wolf on the subject of the budget and House Republicans were blamed for not acting. The governor then discussed what he would be able to do from his office to limit damage due to not having a budget for the current fiscal year.

Wolf now plans on looking at profits from the liquor system of the state. This tactic could raise as much as $1.25 billion according to the governor to pay off the deficit from the year before and then reduce the need for additional borrowing, even if temporarily, to pay the bills.

So, if action is taken by Wolf, will this lead to even more stalling by lawmakers, possibly into next year? Some think that that action by Wolf signals the end of the budget discussions, which would essentially shut down any gambling expansions until next year.

It has been said time and time again that online gambling could be an instant as well as long term solution to budget needs. Money would be paid upfront to the state via licensing and other fees, with continual fees paid year after year. On top of that, operators would have to pay taxes on the gaming offered. This would provide long term money that the state could use.

For now, it seems that online gambling and any other expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania will be on hold. Lawmakers still cannot seem to come to some type of solution to press forward when it comes to budget packages to assist the state.

Despite all this, it seems that most lawmakers want to move forward with a gaming package. Only time will tell when this will happen and what the package will entail.