Last Updated on
Sunday, 06 November 2016 19:00
Sunday, 06 November 2016 18:50
A decision on legalizing online casino gambling and daily fantasy sports betting in Pennsylvania apparently will have to wait until next year.
The state Senate has no plans to act this month on a House-approved bill that would allow both forms of gambling, says Casey Long, director of policy and legislative affairs in the office of Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County. Regularly scheduled voting sessions ended in October, but the House and Senate are scheduled to reconvene the week after the election. Any bills not passed by Nov. 30 will have to be reintroduced when the next legislative session starts in January.
Long tells Player's Advantage that Senate Republicans intend to address a comprehensive gambling package after the first of the year.
The package would include a replacement for the $10 million a year “local share assessment” that most of the state's casinos pay to their host communities. In September, the state Supreme Court declared the existing method unconstitutional and gave the Legislature 120 days to come up with one that treats casinos equally.
Long says the Senate has no consensus on the iGaming and DFS proposals that the House has passed twice. Those measures and a fix for the local share assessment are part of a bill sponsored by Rep. Jason Ortitay, R-Bridgeville, who is completing his first term. Ortitay's original bill dealt with setting up hotlines for compulsive gamblers. The iGaming and DFS provisions that were added are virtually identical to an earlier bill sponsored by Rep. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township.
The local-share assessment that the state Supreme Court struck down set the annual payment for most casinos at 2 percent of slot revenue or $10 million, whichever is more. Mount Airy Casino, which has fewer than 1,900 slots, complained that the $10 million minimum meant that smaller casinos paid a fee far higher by percentage of slot revenue than large casinos paid. Municipalities feared losing the court ruling would take a gigantic chunk out of their budgets, but Dunbar notes that many casinos have pledged to continue the payments regardless.
The House-approved bill keeps the annual payment at $10 million by defining the assessment as 20 percent of the casino's $50 million slot licensing fee.
Proponents of legalized iGaming and DFS say such betting is already common throughout the state but without protections for consumers or revenue from gambling taxes. The bill would impose a 14 percent state tax on gross online gaming revenue plus a 2 percent local-share assessment. The state tax rate for daily fantasy sports would be 12 percent of revenue.
Under the House bill, the state's Gaming Control Board, which approves games and monitors revenue at traditional casinos, would have the same responsibilities for online casinos and DFS operators. Provisions would include:
• Requiring iGaming operators to take all reasonable measures to prevent collusion and cheating devices, including software that makes bets based on the use of algorithms,
• Requiring DFS operators to disclose the maximum number of entries an individual may have in DFS contests and ensuring that no one exceeds that number.
• Forbidding DFS operators, employees and family members from competing in that operator's contests.
• Maintaining separate accounts for players' money and operational funds.
• Prohibiting the use of scripts for betting in DFS contests.
• Offering DFS contests based on collegiate or high-school performances.
• Allowing slot machines in which a player's skill, rather than pure chance, factors in the payout.
• Allowing progressive slot-machine jackpots that rise in conjunction with play at other casinos within the state or in other jurisdictions.
Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware are the only three states with any form of legal online gambling, with Nevada allowing only poker.
Dunbar notes that the state has a big incentive to get online gaming up and running: the 2016-17 budget, which took effect July 1, includes $100 million in revenue from it. Most of that could come from license-application fees, so approval early in 2017 would allow the state to get much of the budgeted amount.