Pennsylvania Online Gambling Regulation May Move Forward This Week

Pennsylvania Committee Could Vote On Online Gambling Bill Tuesday

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According to the Poker Players Alliance, the Pennsylvania Gaming Oversight Committee will vote on an online gambling bill (HB 649), and potentially other gambling reform measures, on Tuesday morning.

The vote has been anticipated for several weeks, and if a vote is held, it is expected to pass.

Anecdotal evidence certainly seems to indicate that iGaming expansion is very much in play in Pennsylvania. First there was Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) producing a web attack ad decrying Chairman John Payne’s efforts to pass an online gambling bill. More recently, an op-ed at criticizing Adelson’s meddling in Pennsylvania politics was published.

More concrete evidence also exists.

Despite a number of hearing cancellations over the past month, the Gaming Oversight Committee’s Chairman and sponsor of HB 649, Representative Payne, has been firm in his belief that a vote on online gambling is still in the cards and that online poker expansion is still a viable addition to the state budget.

“The cancellation of today’s hearing has no effect on online gambling,” Payne told me following the calling off of an October 27 hearing, adding, “A vote [on online gambling] is still being anticipated.”

Online gambling the focal point

It’s unclear if online gambling will be the only gaming reform voted on by the House Gaming Oversight Committee on Tuesday, but iGaming expansion seems to be the key gaming reform the legislature is focusing on. It also seems to be the gaming reform with the most support.

The most likely vehicle for online gambling expansion is the bill sponsored by House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman John Payne: HB 649. At this time it’s unclear if any amendments to the bill will be added before the vote.

As currently written, HB 649 would legalize and regulate online gambling in Pennsylvania with the following requirements:

  • Operator licenses would be available to the state’s brick and mortar casinos – online gaming companies would have the capability to partner with these properties;
  • The licensing fee would be $5 million with the state collecting a 14 percent tax on gross gaming revenue;
  • The bill would give law enforcement the ability to crack down on unlicensed operators.

A separate gaming reform bill (SB 900) that originated in the state senate was less friendly to potential stakeholders, as it imposed a 54 percent tax on gross gaming revenue for online gaming operators.

Other reforms might be tacked on

Other gaming reform options the legislature has discussed this year include:

  • Online lottery sales.
  • Easing regulation governing “tavern gaming.”
  • Regulating games of skill.
  • DFS legalization and regulation.
  • Adding slot machines at airports and off-track betting parlors for a one-time fee.
  • Removing membership requirements for Category 3 “Resort” casinos for a one-time fee.
  • Increasing the number of hours casinos can serve alcohol.

The next steps

If the House Gaming Oversight Committee passes an online gambling bill, it’s only the first step. There would be two potential paths forward, as a standalone bill or as part of the state’s 2016 budget.

If the committee passes an online gambling bill on Tuesday, the next move would be a vote on the house floor followed by a vote in the state senate. If passed by both bodies, the bill would land on the desk of Governor Tom Wolf.

The other potential path forward would be for the legislature to include iGaming expansion, and possibly other gaming reforms, in a budget compromise deal with the governor. The 2016 state budget is four months past due, and the legislature and the governor are trying to reach an agreeable compromise, which many feel will include online gambling.

If online gambling is added to the budget, it would be voted on as an omnibus bill by the Pennsylvania House and Senate.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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