State government is facing a potential shortfall of nearly $3 billion through next summer, based on January projections by the Legislature’s nonpartisan analyst, the Independent Fiscal Office. That’s almost 10 percent of approved spending this year. Meanwhile, some 600,000 more Pennsylvanians are expected to turn 60 in the coming decade, a 20 percent increase, according to state estimates. That will put even more strain on a lottery fund that is set up to fund programs for the elderly.
Casinos are hungry for new revenue. Slot-machine revenue, the workhorse of the gambling dollar, is flattening in an increasingly competitive market.
Still, passing any sort of gambling expansion in Pennsylvania is far from assured.
Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos typically oppose any sort of expansion of gambling that they don’t control. That means one prominent alternative, allowing slot machine-style games in bars, faces strong headwinds.
The casinos also have competing priorities as their lobbyists roll out new ideas for allowing gambling in airports, horse-racing betting parlors or satellite sites in rural areas. It’s not even clear whether the casinos will go along with a developing Senate proposal for online gambling that could demand tax rates that are commensurate with tax rates in force on slot machines and table games receipts.
Plus, casinos are squirming over what they see as the Wolf administration’s overly broad definition of online games the lottery could offer. It is, they suggest, an encroachment onto casino territory.
Meanwhile, the House and Senate GOP majorities do not see eye to eye on gambling.
A House GOP budget plan that passed earlier this month ordered up deep and wide cuts in spending and suggested that a broad gambling expansion could resolve the remaining $800 million gap. Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said Thursday that expanding gambling should be about smart policy, not about fiscal needs.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t expand and modernize, I just don’t think the budget should drive that discussion,” Corman said.
The debate will be complicated by rank-and-file lawmakers who want to deliver primarily for their district.
“In the end, the plan that causes the least disruption and the most and quickest revenue is going to come out on top,” said House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Scott Petri, R-Bucks.