Pennsylvania Online Gambling Bill Hanging Around as Lawmakers Celebrate July 4th

Posted on July 4th, 2016 by Daniel Ryder
Pennsylvania online gambling Sheldon Adelson

Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson is against a Pennsylvania online gambling bill, and his clout could persuade some state lawmakers into opposing the legislation aimed at increasing revenue. (Image: Getty Images/ jewishbusinessnews.com)

The Pennsylvania online gambling bill that would legalize Internet casinos and regulate daily fantasy sports (DFS) currently resides with the state Senate as lawmakers adjourned for the July 4th holiday. After being passed by the state’s House of Representatives, HB 2150 will first need the support of the Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee.

The problem is, that committee doesn’t have any scheduled meetings as the chamber’s regular session calendar is over for the year.

Lawmakers left Harrisburg to travel back to their districts in order to celebrate the long Independence Day weekend. They will reconvene, however, as the General Assembly still needs to come to terms on a fiscal budget for the 2016-2017 year.

The Senate passed a $31.5 billion spending plan last week that accommodates Governor Tom Wolf’s spending increases on public education. But the bill is expected to create a $1-$2 billion deficit unless new revenues are generated.

One option is online gambling, though the bill is a long ways off from being passed.

The House is expected to resume talks early this week and pass the budget. Approving an unfunded budget isn’t ideal, but lawmakers will point to schools and other community services that rely on ongoing state payments.

Online and Upward

Introduced by State Rep. George Dunbar (R-District 56), the Pennsylvania online gambling bill would create millions of dollars in new revenue for Harrisburg. In addition to Internet gambling and DFS, HB 2150 would also put slot machines in airport terminals and at off-track wagering facilities.

Interactive software gaming companies would need to partner with land-based casinos and pay $8 million for an operating license. Gross revenues would be taxed at 16 percent.

New Jersey iGambling operators collected $148.8 million in 2015.

Considering Pennsylvania’s population is 30 percent larger than Jersey’s, the Keystone State could theoretically produce over $193 million in annual online gambling revenues. That would translate to about $31 million for the state upon market maturation.

Should just half of the state’s 12 brick-and-mortar casinos opt in, an additional $48 million would be delivered to Harrisburg off iGambling alone in the first year.

Sheldon Seldom Stays Quiet

It’s no secret that one casino owner won’t be dealing in on Internet casinos. Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands billionaire whose Sands Bethlehem resort is the most successful casino in Pennsylvania, is adamantly against iGambling.

Sands Bethlehem CEO Mark Juliano made his boss’ intentions public last week. The venue is in the process of expanding its hotel, but hinted that those plans would need to be reconsidered should online gambling go through.

“This is not good business by Pennsylvania,” Juliano told the Allentown Morning Call. “We thought all we had to worry about was New Jersey . . . We didn’t think we had to worry about our own legislators.”

The good news for Adelson and Juliano is that while online gambling has the necessary support in the state House, that isn’t necessarily the case in the Senate. Only time will tell when the lawmakers reassemble in Harrisburg later this week.

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