Why Pennsylvania Shouldn’t Dawdle On Legalizing Sports Betting During Budget Impasse

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Every state has an exciting opportunity in front of it when it comes to gaming.

Namely, the New Jersey sports betting case that will be heard in the US Supreme Court in December offers the possibility of other states being able to legalize sports wagering within their borders.

Nowhere would such a move make more sense than Pennsylvania, a state ripe to exploit the benefits of sports betting.

But an over-arching gaming package that would likely pave the wave for sports betting regulation is being held up amid budget negotiations. Pennsylvania would be silly to pass up the chance to set the stage for sports gambling now, simply because lawmakers can’t agree on other things.

The opportunity for sports betting in PA

A New Jersey win in SCOTUS could mean a decision in which the federal law banning sports betting in the US (PASPA) is struck down as unconstitutional. States that pass laws lifting the bans in their gaming statutes would be able to offer legal sports wagering, in that scenario.

Pennsylvania is considering a gaming package that would do a lot of things, including:

Sports betting regulation has been in the mix for some time, as well. It’s an issue that has been on the legislature’s radar dating back a couple of years. A sports betting bill actually made it out of a committee earlier this year.

Waiting on the PA budget, but why?

Right now, however, sports betting isn’t going anywhere. It’s being tied to a larger gaming package, some of whose provisions create real revenue for the state (online gambling), and some that don’t (DFS).

So let’s start here: Sports betting isn’t going to generate any revenue for the current fiscal year. A decision isn’t likely from SCOTUS on the case until spring. So PA wouldn’t even be running sportsbooks, if it were to pass a law, until sometime after July 1, when the next fiscal year starts.

So there’s no good reason to tie sports betting to the budget. The obvious caveat here is the reason is “politics” and changing gaming law in the state necessitates shareholders agreeing on just about everything.

Passing a law now primes the pump, and allows the state gaming commission to start getting ready to regulate it if and when the climate changes federally via the nation’s highest court.

Why sports betting makes sense for PA, now

Pennsylvania is almost certain to legalize sports wagering, eventually, if PASPA comes off the books.

It’s difficult to envision any casino in PA saying “no” to the possibility of legalizing sports betting at their land-based facilities. PA features few of the complicating factors (namely it has a mostly homogenous commercial casino industry) that could slow down legal sports betting in a variety of other states.

The urban casinos would cash in on interest in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh pro teams. And sportsbooks at the smaller casinos would have something that becomes a major new reason to visit.

Furthermore, PA should be getting ready to compete with neighboring New Jersey instantly. Atlantic City casinos and New Jersey race tracks would be able to take sports bets in short order with a positive court ruling. Certainly some residents of New Jersey (and elsewhere) could choose to visit an NJ casino or track instead of a PA one, if one features a sportsbook and the other doesn’t.

Pennsylvania might wait on passing a budget or other gaming measures. But waiting on sports betting could potentially be a big mistake for PA.