Pennsylvania continued its long and winding road towards legalizing online gambling this week. Unfortunately, it has been a long drawn out process. Plus, there are still no guarantees the state will ever get there.
Lawmakers in the state could have followed the lead of their neighbors in New Jersey. New Jersey has now generated $640.6 million in gross revenue and $111.8 million in tax revenue from legalized and regulated online gambling since opening up the market in November 2013. Instead, Pennsylvania is dragging itself kicking and screaming towards something that most consider good for the state.
Bringing Pennsylvania towards legal and regulated online gambling has been like taking a child to the dentist.
Funding the state’s $32 billion budget
After returning from a break this week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives finally passed a bill to fund the state’s $32 billion budget. The bill currently includes $225 million in tax revenue from gambling expansion initiatives, including online gambling.
Lawmakers could simply take a stand, act as leaders, and make a decision in the state’s best interest. They could proudly stand behind online gambling as a way to create new tax revenue and help balance the budget. Instead, lawmakers in Pennsylvania would rather paint themselves into a corner where passing online gambling legislation is the only way out.
This arduous process appeared to be coming to a head at the end of June. That’s when Pennsylvania lawmakers first passed spending levels on the $32-billion budget. Unfortunately, they could not come to a consensus on how to pay for it. Then they went on a break in July with the issue still unresolved.
Online gambling and video gaming terminals
They appeared close to consensus on gambling expansion at that time. Online gambling tax rates and the installation of video gaming terminals (VGTs) at bars and restaurants across the state were the largest points of contention. But rather than settle on anything, the Pennsylvania legislature continued to look like it was in favor of backing into an agreement.
Of course, the latest budget finance bill passed by the House this week will have still to pass the Senate. Plus, it must be signed by Gov. Tom Wolf before it is adopted. However, if the state ultimately does pass a bill that includes $225 million in tax revenue from online gambling, they would theoretically be forced to pass the legislation to pay for it too.
Through the back door
Pennsylvania will get online gambling out of this back-door process. The state will be well on its way to following in New Jersey’s footsteps, where regulated online casinos generated $21.3 million in revenue last month alone.
It’ll just be harder for Pennsylvania lawmakers to pat themselves on the back when they get there, considering the path.