PENNSYLVANIAN ONLINE GAMBLING LEGALIZATION BILL ALREADY UNDER FIRE (Update)
Democratic state Senator Jay Costa's proposal criticized by Republican senator.
Pennsylvanian state Senator Jay Costa's attempt to renew an intrastate online gambling legalization bill is barely a week old and has yet to be formally introduced, but it has come under fire from Republican Senator Robert "Tommy" Tomlinson, who our readers may recall recently wrote to fellow politicians urging caution on a similar bill presented unsuccessfully last year.
Sen. Tomlinson started his attack by examining the 25 percent of GGR tax rate in Costa's proposal, noting that land casino slot action is taxed at 54 percent.
That raises the possibility that land casino operators who have elected to go online as well will be tempted to persuade their players to use the lower taxed online services, jeopardizing land casino jobs and reducing the state's tax revenues from the land operations.
Tomlinson went on to suggest that any online legalization be confined to poker, with strict registration requirements that include players having to present themselves at a land casino with proof of identity when registering.
Tomlinson and Costa are more in synch when it comes to land gambling issues such as expanding the number of satellite casinos and allowing video gaming terminals in state bars and restaurants, all parts of last year's failed HB 2150 – HB1887 omnibus land and online gambling expansion proposals which lawmakers hope will deliver a $100 million boost to help close the $600 million budget deficit in Pennsylvania.
Costa has already calculated that if his proposal wins through it will generate $137 million in licensing fees and tax for the state.
His proposal is virtually a rehash of HB2150-1887 but with markedly increased tax rates and license fees, and he has emphasized that it is open to debate as a new starting point for the legalization initiative in 2017.
Our readers will recall that last year the state House passed HB1887, but it died in the state Senate for lack of action when the legislative season ended.
Costa expects fellow Democrats will be more active in supporting his bill now that the election season has passed – they noticeably avoided involvement last year but the pressure to close the budget deficit is now on.
Some observers have opined that a statement from state governor Tom Wolf on what he would and would not be prepared to sign off on would be helpful in progressing the legalization/expansion issue to avoid lawmakers becoming unnecessarily bogged down with unrealizable detail.
Casino lobbyist Steve Crawford, who represents three land operators who support online gambling operated by state-licensed land casinos, said:
"A lot of energy was spent last year on things that maybe were never going to pass. [The governor] can be helpful in framing the debate."
In response, on Tuesday Gov. Wolf's Press Secretary J.J. Abbott said:
"We are committed to working with Democrats and Republicans on a package that meets the collective commitment we made in passing last year's budget. With any gambling expansion, there will be effects on the industry, consumers, and revenue that exists now, so we are committed to working on a package that balances those parties' concerns."