Though the collective hopes of gambling proponents and budgeting-crafting lawmakers were high this year after a failed attempt at passing a similar bill in 2016, the 2017 version of the gambling expansion bill failed to get approval from House Republicans.
According to several sources, the House isn’t that interested in passing an approved budget financial package.
A complex picture: Gambling, budgeting and big deficits
Pennsylvania takes a relatively popular approach to their upcoming state budget. First, they approve a budget. The budget details how much spending will take place and which departments will get which amounts of money, how new projects will be funded, and more.
Second, they get together and figure how to actually pay for the budget. That’s where the gambling bill comes into play. The approved budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year includes $200 million from the gambling expansion bill that’s on the table right now.
However, neither the gambling bill nor the funding package have been approved. That means both are dead in the water until summer passes and lawmakers reconvene for their fall session.
If 2016 was any indication of what to expect, then there’s a chance that stubborn House Republicans will get a funding plan passed that won’t include the gambling bill.
Video gambling terminals could sink expansion bill
House Republicans are adamant about the inclusion of a part of the gambling bill that would, in theory, allow more than 3,000 video gambling terminals in taverns across the state.
The idea here is that these new slots will bring in new revenue. Then that new revenue can help the state meet its budget and slowly hack away at its more than $1 billion deficit.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with adding thousands of these terminals. Critics of the VGT expansion say that these new gambling terminals will cannibalize existing casinos.
For example, gamblers who have to drive long distances to get to a casino may see the VGT’s in the bar five miles from their house as a worthy replacement.
Not only that, but adding new slots isn’t a guarantee to more revenue. As one industry expert pointed out, Pennsylvania’s slots revenues have fallen for 10 consecutive months. Why add more slots-style gambling machines if they’re a slowly-dying industry?
Don’t bet on a bill this Fall
In 2016, there was a sense of frail hope heading into the break between the summer and winter legislative sessions. Whatever momentum that year’s gambling bill had seemed to fade away once the leaves changed color.
There seems to be more enthusiasm that this year’s bill has a better chance to pass. However, much of that depends on VGT’s and other aspects of the state budget. As of now, it’s a painfully slow process.