Pennsylvania Gaming Legislation Moves Forward

by Jim Hall

PennsylvaniaLegislation covering a gaming expansion has moved forward in Pennsylvania, with a full Senate vote expected to take place this week.

A gambling expansion for the state of Pennsylvania has been in the works for some time now. Legislators have been discussing ways for the industry to build more revenues from gaming with additions to the airport, VGTs, online gaming and more. Pennsylvania has actually been the closest state in the US to passing legislation to become the next to offer online gaming but seem to always backtrack. Now, it seems the state is closer than ever to offering online gaming as well as expanding in other areas.

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Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee met to discuss House Bill 271, which included several amendments. The bill was voted upon and passed through the committee. The House had passed the bill in April and now this committee along with the Senate Appropriations Committee are in approval of the omnibus bill which includes several areas of gambling such as online lottery sales and daily fantasy sports.

The committees had to review the measure to determine what amendments had been made and if they were approved. There is still time to make changes and according to the new information presented, it would not be surprising to see yet more amendments made, particularly in the area of slot and table game tax.

House Bill 271 Details

After the meeting, the details of the bill were discussed. Since the bill was reviewed, the amendments have been made known and the bill will now move forward to the full Senate where a vote is expected to take place. Right now, the measure as it stands would charge operators 54% in regards to slot and table games taxes online. Online poker gaming revenues would be taxed at a much smaller and more reasonable rate of 16%.

Those in the gambling industry have expressed their concerns with the 54% tax placed on non-poker games so it would not be surprising to see changes to this tax in the future. Currently, the 12 land based gaming venues of the state pay 54% taxes on revenues from slot machines. Each of these casinos would be able to apply for licensing to operate online as well.

As far as licensing is concerned, the bill places a $5 million price tag on poker licensing and $5 million for slot and table gaming.  This would help to reach the $250 million set aside in the budget that is said to be coming from online gambling.

The vote on the legislation by the state Senate could happen as early as today but no news has been provided as of yet. If the bill is successfully passed, then the bill will go back to the House so the amendments can be reviewed. If approved, the bill will move to the desk of the governor and be signed into law to take effect.

As the bill currently stands, poker is more favorable than the slots and table games when considering the activities from a business standpoint. The state is one of the top markets in the country when it comes to gaming as land based poker rooms have already earned more than $20 million during the first four months of this year. Casinos are just as profitable when it comes to traditional table games and slots.

So there is a market for gaming, and with more people going online today than ever before, online gaming should most certainly be popular within the state. It will be interesting to see how the Senate rules on the matter and if the bill will make it back to the House and be one step closer to passage.