Pennsylvania online poker has taken a backseat in Harrisburg as more pressing issues have been forced upon lawmakers, specifically reaching a budget deal, as the Republican-controlled General Assembly and recently-elected democratic Governor Tom Wolf have now gone more than 40 days without a plan for the fiscal year that began July 1st.
Internet poker received plenty of headlines in 2015, with multiple hearings held and bills being introduced in both the state Senate and House of Representatives.
But after a whirlwind spring and early summer for Pennsylvania online poker, the matter was largely believed to be dead until State Rep. John Payne (R-District 106) said this week that nothing could be further from the truth.
Talking with CardPlayer, Payne says iPoker potential depends on what bills Governor Wolf and the General Assembly agree to include in the budget, and so far “nobody knows.”
Payne’s optimism that online poker in his state could still come to fruition before the New Year is perhaps shocking to many considering the House has just 25 scheduled voting sessions remaining, and the Senate even fewer at just 20 days.
That’s a rather bold expectation since both chambers would need to vote on, likely amend, and pass the legislation in less than three workweeks.
But it’s doable, and the general consensus is that Payne’s bill is the leading candidate for passage, as Senator Kim Ward (R-District 39) is the only other reaming iPoker legislative author, but her bill would tax revenues at an astonishing 54 percent, the highest regulated online gambling tax in the world.
Payne, who also chairs the House Gaming Oversight Committee, levies a 14 percent online poker tax. “54 percent is the high end,” Payne said. “If 14 percent is too low, I am willing to negotiate.”
Should Payne and Ward lead the comprising and appeal to their respective chambers, perhaps the gloomy iPoker outlook might see a front of sunshine move over the Keystone State.
Governor Wolf’s first half-year hasn’t been one of ease, as the former businessman took on highly contested topics in Pennsylvania including banning hydraulic fracking in state parks and placed a moratorium on the death penalty. And while those issues are divisive and controversial, a signed budget is essential.
The Republican legislature doesn’t want to raise taxes, regardless of Wolf’s wishes to invest more dollars into the education system and reduce property taxes. “No one wants a tax increase,” Wolf said last week. “But in a democracy, when we’re governing ourselves, sometimes we have to make tough decisions.”
Joe Scarnati, president pro tempore of the Senate, argues that Wolf needs to get out of campaign mode and into governing, saying his assault on fracking and tax increases on natural gas drilling will hurt the economy. “His campaign promises can’t become Pennsylvania’s nightmare,” Scarnati said.
How revenue is generated and spent is of course the key debate, but when it comes to generation, Internet poker could be a viable and sustainable alternative to raising taxes on businesses or individuals.
Estimates for iPoker revenue in Pennsylvania reaches nearly $130 million annually, and with the state already having the fifth-richest lottery in the United States, expanding those sweepstakes to the Internet could also drastically help Wolf expand school funding while pleasing conservatives.