Pa. governor still sees promise in online gaming

A person plays a slot on a touch-screen tablet

An employee at Resorts Casino Hotel tries a touch-screen tablet (Wayne Parry/AP Photo, file)

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, Gov. Tom Wolf’s spending plan for the next budget year optimistically calls for $150 million in 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 Parx Casino in Bensalem is against it. In a joint public hearing on the subject, he said “i-gaming” will gut profits at existing brick-and-mortar casinos.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said of the current business model. “This will most assuredly be a losing deal for the commonwealth.”

Others, including Wendy Hamilton of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, differ. Hamilton supports i-gaming, and fundamentally disagrees about its impact.

Where Ricci is concerned that i-gaming will saturate the gambling market, Ricci argued 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 gambling at brick-and-mortar establishments, and Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh, 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 i-gaming has been introduced in both the House and Senate.

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

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