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The Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee passed HB 649, a bill sponsored by committee chairman John Payne that would legalize and regulate online poker and online casino games in the state. We first reported on the impending vote earlier this week.
The measure easily passed the Gaming Oversight Committee by a margin of 18-8, but according to the Poker Players Alliance’s John Pappas, there was a halfhearted attempt to poison the well via an amendment to increase the availability of video gambling terminals in the state. The amendment failed, and the Gaming Oversight Committee passed HB 649.
Update: The bill was also amended to allow “slot machines at airports and off-track betting parlors,” according to the Associated Press.
The Gaming Oversight vote is just the first step on HB 649’s journey to become law.
Assuming HB 649 remains a standalone measure, the next step for HB 649 would be a vote on the House floor, followed by a vote in the state Senate. Assuming the Senate doesn’t alter the bill (which would require the bill go back to the House for another vote), HB 649 would then be presented to the governor to sign into law.
However, there is an easier alternative path forward for HB 649. The bill could find become part of the state’s 2016 budget as a compromise measure, and voted into law when the full legislature votes on the 2016 budget.
Budget talks between the Republican-controlled legislature and the state’s new Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, have been contentious, as the two sides try to reconcile their differences on how to close the state’s sizable deficit. All along, online gambling has been seen as a potential olive branch the legislature could offer the governor as they work towards a budget deal.
The state’s budget is now some 130 days past due.
“With the passage of H.B. 649, the House Gaming Oversight Committee has proven their commitment to providing Pennsylvania residents with a safe and regulated place to play online poker within their own borders,” said John Pappas, executive director of the PPA.
“The PPA thanks Chairman John Payne and the Committee for their leadership. Now this bill needs to become law. The safety of consumers and the fiscal health of Pennsylvania will be vastly improved when Internet gaming is appropriately licensed, regulated and taxed. It is our hope that the legislation will be enacted on its own or as part of the state’s 2016 budget by the end of this year.”