Pennsylvania Gaming Bill Not Dead, Just Resting Its Eyes

By in Poker on

Earlier this week, CardPlayer.com reported that Pennsylvania House Bill 649, a bill which would legalize online gambling in the Commonwealth, is unlikely to go any further this year, or so said the man who introduced the bill Rep. John Payne. Payne added that it should be back up for a vote in the spring.

Steve Ruddock at OnlinePokerReport.com (OPR) has been able to add some more details to the latest development, as he spoke with Rep. Payne on Wednesday, who shed some more light on what’s going on. For someone who has led over two dozen gaming hearings this year, he does not sound concerned in the slightest that his baby isn’t going to become a grown-up this year.

The reason: he was never really concerned with getting through the House this year, anyway. HB 649 made it through the House Gaming Oversight Committee, of which Payne is chairman, by an 18-8 vote in November. That happened in the midst of a heated state budget battle in the state legislature, one that is still going on. The budget was due nearly six months ago, but the House and Senate have both put forth their own spending bills and cannot come to an agreement on the final details. Many saw HB 649 as a solution for at least some of the revenue the budget would need (Payne estimates $120 million in the first year), so it was thought that the bill would be passed quickly or possibly made a part of the budget.

The budget still hasn’t been settled and HB 649 looks to be essentially done for 2015. But when Payne introduced the bill in February, “I was never given instructions by the leadership to hurry up and get this done so we would have it for June’s budget,” he told OPR.

“We always planned on using any revenue from gaming for the structural deficit in our pension; that’s still the plan.”

It was “like plan one thousand,” Payne said, referring to HB 649’s possible role in plugging holes in the budget.

Payne told Ruddock and OPR that the problem he and his fellow legislators faced, and the reason he is not bothered by the bill not going forward right now, is that if HB 649 had been used to fund the budget, they would then need another plan for fixing the pension’s structural deficit. Thus, Payne told his colleagues that they would likely have to vote for a tax increase in the spring to deal with that structural deficit.

There are still a lot of details to hammer out – over 100 amendments have already been added to the bill and still need to be discussed – but while HB 649 will not pass bfore the end of the year, it is still on track for the spring. “It’s physically alive and well and on the calendar for second consideration, so that literally within two days time we can run the bill,” he told OPR.

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