VGT issue derails Pennsylvania online gambling, daily fantasy legislation (again)


pennsylvania-online-gambling-house-voteUPDATE: The bill’s online components aren’t quite dead yet.

Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives has rejected the latest plan to regulate online gambling and daily fantasy sports.

Wednesday’s vote – 79 in favor, 116 opposed – was over Amendment A08621 to HB 2150, the daily fantasy sports legislation introduced earlier this month by Rep. George Dunbar.

The 183-page amendment to HB 2150 was an omnibus of virtually every piece of gaming legislation in the House’s current session, including DFS, Rep. John Payne’s online gambling bill, slot machines in off-track betting sites, slots and tablet gaming in airports and letting the state approve sports betting if the US Congress repeals the federal ban.

But the most contentious component was allowing the state’s roughly 13k liquor licensees (taverns, bars, clubs, VFW halls, etc.) to install up to five video gaming terminals (VGTs) apiece. Of all the speechifying that transpired on the House floor on Wednesday, VGTs were the dominant subject, with the majority of speakers expressing sharp opposition to VGT approval.

Some representatives complained that the 183-page omnibus had only been released at 10am that morning, leaving them little time to determine the specifics of what they were voting for or against.

Dunbar countered that the language of the individual bills had been circulating for months, leaving VGTs as the only unread component. But just as the VGT issue derailed last month’s attempt to pass omnibus gaming legislation, it once again proved a poison pill.

The debate that preceded the vote was chock full of warnings that VGTs would result in the general downfall of society, not to mention cannibalize the state’s share of revenue from its dozen brick-and-mortar casino operators as well as from the state lottery.

But Rep. Paul Costa said there were already around 40k VGT operating in a legal grey area in the state, and if these hadn’t yet crippled either the casinos or the lottery, a few thousand more machines wouldn’t matter.

The state is trying to craft a new budget before its June 30 deadline. Dunbar claimed VGTs would generate nearly $244m for the state in the first year, while the other gambling options would collectively contribute $270m, plus another $2m to $5m from DFS.

Rep. Chris Donato said he was no gambling fan but he’d support VGT over PIT (personal income tax) hikes any day. Rep. Martin Mustio chided the anti-VGT faction for yelling “the sky is falling” and warned legislators that voting down the legislation meant they were “handcuffing yourselves” in future budget negotiations.

In the end, these warnings fell on deaf ears. But both Republicans and Democrats summoned their members into caucus immediately following the vote, leaving open the possibility that some of the less contentious gaming items could be reintroduced as standalone legislation. Watch this space…