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Pennsylvania Online Gambling Heads Offline for 2015, Shelved Until Spring

Pennsylvania online gambling will have to wait until the New Year for consideration after the Senate passed a budget free of any language to authorize Internet betting. (Image: Joe Hermitt/The Patriot-News)

The Keystone State had a July 1 deadline to approve a fiscal year operating budget, but the two sides have been locked in a stalemate now for six months and critical consequences have ensued including school districts being forced to borrow money from outside lenders.   

Last week the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a $30.3 billion budget that included plans to authorize a bill introduced by State Rep. John Payne (R-District 106) to permit online gambling and poker.

Internet gaming, estimated to generate $300 million annually for Harrisburg, was being used to combat education increases mandated by Governor Tom Wolf.

The Senate rejected that budget and approved its own $30.8 billion plan that omits any such gaming legislation.

With support from both sides of the aisle, the Senate budget is now in the lower chamber for consideration and approval.

Wolf isn’t open for many, if any, changes. “I’m done, I’m committed to the framework,” the first-term governor said Monday afternoon.

Payne’s Painful Conclusion

Payne has been fighting to authorizing Internet gambling in Pennsylvania for the entire year, and he got close to succeeding this fall.

In November, the Gaming Oversight Committee voted in favor of moving his  bill HB 649 to the chamber floor for additional discussion.

It was a major win for the lawmaker, but bipartisan bickering among Democrats and Republicans led to a standoff over the budget.

Wolf wants to push an additional $350 million into the education system, a cost the governor plans to fund through an increase in the sales tax. House Republicans are against that strategy, and offered Internet gaming as a way to bridge the shortfall.

Payne’s long road to bringing poker out of the dark shadows in Pennsylvania and into a regulated market appeared to be traveling to a luminous conclusion.

Then Senate Republicans got in the way.

Instead of regulating online gaming, the Senate voted to pay for Wolf’s expanded government by selling off its state-run liquor retail business and modifying the state pension program for employees.

Long, Cold Winter

The weather in Pennsylvania has been unseasonably warm this fall, but that isn’t expected to last as winter begins on December 21.

Poker fans in the Keystone State will have more to look forward to than just sunshine in the spring as Payne is expected to reintroduce iGaming legislation in the new calendar year.

According to the website Card Player, Payne says the issue will be reexamined in March or April. There are just 17 scheduled session days in the state House over the first two months of 2016.

“Like many Pennsylvanians, I have children and grandchildren and understand how important it is to get this right,” Payne said recently. “We must have a thorough set of guidelines and penalties in place to end the ‘wild west’ atmosphere that currently exists and protect authorized consumers from unscrupulous operators and fraudulent games.”