The Patriot-News is a leading newspaper out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania—the state capitol—where political matters make the headlines more often than Cat Williams says the “F” word. On Friday, the Editorial Board published a dogmatic op-ed in which they urged state legislators to pass an online poker law, not just because it would greatly benefit PA’s enormous budget deficit, but ‘because they can’.
“Pennsylvania legislators should pass an online gaming bill in June both because the state needs to close a seemingly insurmountable budget gap in the next fiscal year, and, simply, because it can,” read the op-ed.
The editorial quickly pointed out that Pennsylvania is facing an estimated general fund deficit of $2 billion in the coming fiscal year. The board referred to the deficit as “troubling for its potential impact to the state’s current and future debt.”
While the writers claim to be under no false pretenses that passing an online poker law will suddenly fix all of the financial problems in Pennsylvania, they do believe it will “help ease the deficit.” However, they also pointed out that, even if a bill were passed this month, online gambling wouldn’t likely generate any revenue until “late next year or 2017”.
The op-ed compared probable revenue from online gambling in PA to that of the existing market in New Jersey. We all know that iGaming was a disappointment in the Garden State, harvesting a mere fraction of the tax dollars that Gov. Chris Christie had anticipated. However, the state did pull in $18.5 million from regulated online poker and casino games.
“The Garden State’s revenues are rising this year, though, and Pennsylvania, with 43 percent more state residents 21 years of age or older, stands to gain more tax dollars with similar legislation,” read the publication.
The Editorial Board noted that Pennsylvania is greatly lacking in public pension funding, and there’s not nearly enough left in the budget to pay for the much-needed reconstruction of crumbling roads and bridges. “Although Pennsylvania will not realize huge benefits by entering online gaming, it cannot afford to ignore a legitimate revenue source.”
The op-ed went on to criticize legislators for ignoring what could have been a vast source of state income in the way of severance taxes on natural gas extraction. “If Pennsylvania continues to refuse to realize tax revenue on a finite resource, one for which significant profits are earned daily by companies outside the state, it must find revenue elsewhere.” The editorial went on to call online gambling, “a resource Pennsylvania should mine now.”
Most Viable PA Online Poker Law
There are currently four propositions on the table to get an online poker law in place. The one that’s expected to receive the most attention (i.e. voted most likely to succeed) is HB 649, introduced by House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman and State Representative John Payne. That also happens to be the online poker law most strongly endorsed by the newspaper.
“Legislation sponsored by Rep. John Payne…would legalize and regulate online gaming and it is worthy of consideration.”
The writers noted a report by GamblingOnline.co in which the analytical website said online gaming “is not legalized but Pennsylvania residents that gamble online are not likely to be prosecuted because the state is very lenient about their online gambling laws.”
The underlying problem therein is that PA residents are gambling online, but they are doing so in a potentially unsafe, unregulated environment. Plus, their dollars are flowing into offshore websites that aren’t subject to taxation that could be benefiting the state.
Passage of an online poker law to enforce regulations that include “geolocation, technology that permits a website to see the physical location of a computer, tablet, or smartphone, and restrict access if the user is outside Pennsylvania,” could change all that.
“Pennsylvania has the means, the motive, and the opportunity to pass online gaming legislation before the end of this budget cycle,” wrote the Editorial Board. “Its elected state representatives should pull the trigger so the state can capture tax dollars it is losing to external operators while protecting its youth.”