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But a DFS bill’s future quickly became murky as the effort was tied to a larger gambling package and budget talks in the state.
So what’s going on in Pennsylvania, exactly?
There are actually a couple of bills in play in PA.
The first is H 2150, which started out as just a bill to regulate DFS when it was introduced in June. When it reached the House floor, it became tied into a larger gambling expansion package in the state, one that included online gambling.
The bill was passed by the House late in June, and sent to the Senate. Since then, however, it hasn’t seen any action, other than being referred to committee.
There is also S 1324, which remains a standalone DFS bill. It’s in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Right now, the state legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf are focused on the state budget. The fiscal year started on July 1, and the House and Senate already passed a spending plan of more than $31 billion that sits on Wolf’s desk. He has until Monday to sign or veto it.
The House-passed gambling bill is part of House Republicans’ revenue plan to pay for budget increases, but it’s not clear that the Senate or the governor are on board with that plan. There is opposition to some of the provisions in the H 2150, including online gambling and a slot-machine expansion.
There have been rumblings that the Senate will come up with own gambling package. What would be in it — i.e. overlap with the House bill — is a variable.
It’s certainly possible that DFS stays as a standalone item in the Senate, and is kept out of a larger gambling package. DFS does not generate truly meaningful revenue for the state, and it’s being declared a “game of skill” apart from gambling in legislation.
That is really up in the air.
While the legislature has been in recess since July 1, it could return to action at any point. (The House is in session on Sunday, while the Senate currently does not have a set date to reconvene.)
The “deadline” for the budget is about as soft as could be imagined; last year, a final budget wasn’t passed until nine months later.
There is impetus not to repeat last year’s budget debacle, especially given that it’s an election year. But if Republicans in the state and Wolf can’t agree on a spending package, or how to pay for it, it’s possible the process takes months or spills into 2017 again. Lawmakers want to get home for the summer, and also to campaign in their districts.
And while DFS was a hot-button issue in other states, it hasn’t garnered the same sort of attention or championing in Pennsylvania. It’s certainly possible that if it’s not passed as part of a wider gambling package tied to the budget, it could have to wait until later.
Almost all DFS sites already operate in Pennsylvania, whose gambling law vis a vis the DFS industry as currently situated hasn’t been much of a topic of debate. The attorney general’s office has not gotten involved in Pennsylvania, which is not the case in some other states.
That means, all things considered, PA is not a state where passing a bill would fundamentally change the calculus for DFS sites. (That’s different than in states like New York and Illinois, where AG opinions and legislation have had a big impact on the industry.)
Yes, the industry would like to get legal clarity in as many states as possible, as quickly as possible. But if Pennsylvania holds off on DFS regulation, it’s certainly not an awful outcome for the industry, in the present environment.