PA Online Gambling Hearing Delayed
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Pennsylvania Online Gambling Regulation Moving Closer To Goal Line As Adelson-Supported Pushback Mounts

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Online gambling regulation in Pennsylvania appears to be set for discussion in a key committee hearing next week.

Meanwhile, opponents of regulation appear to be ratcheting up their attempts to derail such legislation.

The latest signs of movement in PA

Gambling expansion — including online gambling — is one of the pieces of the puzzle that will be considered as state legislators and Gov. Tom Wolf try to end a stalemate over the state budget that has lasted more than three months.

There have been signs that online gambling could be used to increase revenue for the budget for awhile now, including rumblings last week.

Originally, there were signs that a House Gaming Oversight Committee meeting that would be held on Wednesday.

The agenda for that meeting was never listed but it was reported to be gambling expansion. From Penn Live:

On Wednesday, the House gaming committee also is expected to vote on several other measures, including Sen. Kim Ward’s bill to allow casinos that are willing to pay a $10 million permit fee to offer Internet gambling to people who are physically in the state while they are playing online.

However, it was canceled just two days before it was supposed to take place.

With Wednesday apparently off the table, the next chance might be when the Senate finance committee and the House gaming committee meet for a “Joint Public Hearing on Exploring the Potential of Online Lottery/Gaming in Pennsylvania.”

Pushback from Adelson-backed group

The counterpoint to that momentum: Increased activity from the Coalition to Stop Internet Gaming (CSIG).

As Pokerfuse reported Wednesday, CSIG recently launched an ad campaign targeting Rep. John Payne, one of the primary advocates of regulated online gambling in Pennsylvania and author of HB 549 (more on that bill below).

Here’s a spot from said campaign:

The online gambling bills in play

The Penn Live report above references SB 900, a Senate gaming bill. There have been five gaming bills that have been floated this year, but the main gaming bill in the House this year has been HB 649, sponsored by Rep. John Payne, who has been championing online gambling for some time now.

SB 900 was last considered in June during a Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee chaired by Ward. That bill is a wide-ranging one on gambling that includes online gambling regulation; Payne’s bill only addressed online gambling.

The two bills differ on a number of points, and there is far from consensus on how to implement online gambling, the last time we heard from legislators.

Tax rate

This is the biggest difference that likely needs to be resolved. Ward’s bill has a rate of 54 percent on gross revenue, while Payne’s bill featured a rate of 14 percent. 

The landing spot is likely somewhere in the middle, although it’s been made clear that a rate over 50 percent is likely not tenable.

Licensing

This issue is likely easily resolved. HB 649 charges a $5m licensing fee for operators, $1m for “significant vendors,” while SB 900 has a $10 million fee for five years, with a $1 million renewal.

Where the price point will fall is unknown, but a lower mark would seem to make sense to encourage operators to enter the space.

‘In-person’ registration

HB 649 does not have a provision that says players would have to sign up in person to start an online casino or poker account. SB 900 does — unless the player is within 20 miles of a registered casino — but it’s almost a non-starter for anyone wanting to offer online gambling, especially considering the fees and taxes that would be levied. Expect this provision to be dropped.

Gov. Wolf’s stance on online gambling

Beyond the legislature getting on the same page, Wolf needs to be on board, as well. At least publicly, it sounds like he is:

Gov. Wolf says he’d consider plans to expand gambling in the state, including online gambling. But he says that won’t bring in anything close to what they need to close the deficit.

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Dustin Gouker
- 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.