State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Stakeholders, lawmakers conflicted over merits of iGaming

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 7, 2017 10:35 PM

The Wolf administration left a hole in the budget for gambling expansion money, but there's little consensus on how to fill it. (Photo by AP)

(Harrisburg) -- Pennsylvania's current budget has a $100 million hole state lawmakers intended to fill with some kind of gaming revenue.

That money never came through.

Even so, Governor Tom Wolf's spending plan for next fiscal year optimistically calls for $150 million to be filled with even more unspecified gaming money, and lawmakers don't seem close to a consensus on what to do.

The gaming conversation at the Capitol often revolves around whether to legalize and tax online gambling.

Anthony Ricci, of Philadelphia-area Parx Casino, is against it. In a joint public hearing on the subject, he said iGaming will gut profits at existing brick-and-mortar casinos.

"If it aint broke don't fix it," he said of the current business model. "This will most assuredly be a losing deal for the commonwealth."

But others, like Wendy Hamilton of Philadelphia's Sugarhouse Casino, differ. Hamilton supports iGaming, and fundamentally disagrees about its impact.

Where Ricci is concerned that iGaming will saturate the gambling market, Ricci argues the market is already saturated, and that expanding the industry to online platforms will actually expand the customer base.

"Look at the numbers," she said. "We have evidence from other operators that has been published, that online is a different customer."

Complicating the discussion is the fact taxes on Pennsylvania's casinos help offset soaring property levies.

Internet Gaming would be taxed at a lower rate than brick-and-mortar gambling, and so Democratic Senator Lisa Boscola, of Lehigh County, said she's concerned that would push costs back to property owners.

"The whole reason we sold the public on gaming is because they get property tax relief," she said. "Now we're going backwards. That's just great. "

Legislation to legalize iGaming has been introduced in both the House and Senate.

Last year the House passed two similar bills, but the Senate didn't act.

Published in News, State House Sound Bites

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