Gaming Committee Chair Among Sponsors Of Bill To Regulate Online Gaming, Poker

The Latest, Best Sign That Online Poker Is Coming To Pennsylvania: Top Senate Republicans Introducing New Bill

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Several prominent Pennsylvania senate Republicans plan to introduce a new bill that would allow iGaming — the fifth such bill in the state this year.

More momentum for online gaming

The latest bill is perhaps the best indication that iGaming is likely coming to the Keystone State. A memo about the planned bill was posted on Wednesday. It will be sponsored by Senator Kim Ward, with a trio of co-sponsors: Sen. Robert Tomlinson, Sen. Elder Vogel and Sen. Joseph Scarnati.

The bill deals largely with brick-and-mortar casinos, particularly slot machine licensing. But clearly the most important part of the bill would be allowing anyone who is Pennsylvania to play online casino games. From the memo:

Existing PA casinos that offer slot machine and table games would be eligible to offer Internet gaming to individual patrons that have registered and established an Internet gaming account and are physically present in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania while playing online.  In addition, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs would be required to develop expanded compulsive and problem gambling programs specifically related to Internet gaming.

Not shockingly, the bill will require anyone with an online gaming license to already have a brick-and-mortar presence in the state. Some casinos have already partnered with companies who can offer an online platform, in the event a bill passes.

While there has certainly been momentum for iGaming in recent months in Pennsylvania, the group proposing this bill is likely indicative that the Senate will be behind its passage. Reading between the lines from a story at last month, it’s possible to tell that this bill was coming, in retrospect.

Tomlison is a powerful force in the State Senate, with Parx included in his district, is a leading voice on gaming issues.

Ward chairs the Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee, which oversees gaming issues in the Senate. Scarnati is the president pro tempore — the second highest-ranking officer in the Senate.

It seems unlikely that heavy hitters like these would back a bill unless they were pretty sure they could get their party to fall in line. Republicans hold a 30-19 majority in the Senate.

Fifth time is the charm?

This is the fifth proposed bill that seeks to regulate iGaming in some way. The three that have already been introduced were generated by the state House.

Payne is the Republican chair of the Gaming Oversight Committee in the House. His bill has had the most support previously; he and Democrat Nick Kotik recently penned an op-ed pushing for the regulation of iGaming.

Wiley, meanwhile, is the Democratic minority chair of Ward’s CERD Committee. Wiley’s bill allows only for online poker — not casino games. However, it’s not clear that Republicans would even need Democratic help to pass such a bill. His bill is also tied to changes for B&M casinos.

It all adds up to widespread support of legalization and regulation of iGaming, in some form.

This month is the month

After several months of talking about iGaming, the state will have to act soon or wait until another legislative session. The legislature is set to adjourn at the end of the month — June 30th — and the state budget will be due then. Online gaming efforts are meant to raise funds for the state, which is facing a $2 billion deficit.

Estimates put the amount of revenue generated by iGaming fees and taxes north of $140 million in the first year, and possibly past $200 million annually. Those are pretty good numbers for a state looking at new ways to add to the government’s coffers. Clearly, iGaming will be a part of budget discussions.

With nearly every politician responsible for the direction of iGaming in the state behind one bill or another, it seems clear that a bill will see an up-or-down vote in one or both houses of the legislature. The final form and details of an online gaming bill — and whether or not one will pass the full membership — are the only matters still up in the air.

Photo by Jason used under license CC BY 2.0.

- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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