Pennsylvania Legislature Approves Online Gambling

Business News

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania, which is second only to Nevada in commercial casino revenues, have voted to approve the biggest expansion of gambling in the state since casinos were legalised more than a decade ago.

Desperate to find ways to help plug a giant budget hole, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved and sent to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf a bill to extend casino-style gambling to truck stops, online portals and airports, and to allow 10 new mini-casinos to open in a state that already has a dozen casinos operating. The vote was 109-72, with support from both GOP and Democratic leaders.

Wolf has expressed support for expanding gambling to patch up the state budget. His office said he would decide in the next few days whether to sign the gambling legislation.

The measure would make Pennsylvania the fourth state with internet gambling, and the first to allow both casino and lottery games to be offered online, as Pennsylvania looks to make money off new and younger players. It also would pave the way for the struggling Pennsylvania Lottery — which funds programs for the elderly — to begin offering keno.

Only Nevada and Puerto Rico currently allow airport gambling.

“It’s one of the most aggressive gambling expansion bills I’ve seen in any state that already had casinos,” said Joe Weinert, the executive vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group, an Atlantic City, New Jersey-based consultancy.

The bill, a couple years in the making, emerged Wednesday night and won passage within 18 hours in both chambers of the Legislature despite opponents’ protests that they barely had a chance to read it, warnings that it carried unforeseen consequences and complaints that it was packed with sweetheart deals.

The plan, if adopted, would definitely result in higher overall gambling revenues in Pennsylvania, Weinert said. But the question of which casinos get hurt — every neighboring state has a casino industry — will depend on where the state’s existing casinos build the 10 additional smaller casinos that the bill allows, he said.

Pennsylvania casinos rake in more gross revenue than any other state except Nevada. But it is No. 1 in gambling revenue, netting $1.4 billion in taxes from the industry in the most recent fiscal year.