How Quickly Could Pennsylvania Roll Out Online Gambling And Poker?

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A bill that would allow online poker and gambling took a big step forward last week. But how close are Pennsylvanians to playing on the virtual felt?

First things first, the PA online poker bill needs to pass

After HB 649 passed a House committee vote, the online gambling and gaming expansion hybrid legislation appears to have a real shot at becoming a law.

If it will be passed by the legislature — or when — both remain open questions. The bill was “laid on the table” of the state House on Nov. 24. It could become part of a revenue package in the ongoing budget negotiations in Pennsylvania, putting it on a possible fast track for this year.

Of course, while there have been positive signs for a budget agreement between Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, the impasse has been going on for months. Trying to handicap what will happen with the budget is difficult at best.

It’s also possible it gets held out of the budget package entirely and is eventually considered on its own merits, meaning the timeline could be pushed into 2016.

So, online gaming regulation could be anywhere from a month to several months away from being passed, if at all. If that hurdle is cleared, what does the timeline look like?

What government officials are saying about the online poker timeline

If and when the bill becomes law, that triggers the machinations that need to take place for the state to get up and running for online poker and gambling, which requires a lot more than just saying “it’s now legal.”

A story at Trib Live touched on the subject, putting a timeline of six months on the table, in an extremely optimistic take on a potential timeline. However, more than half a year seems like a more realistic timeframe.

From the story: “Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach says the agency estimates it would need nine months from passage of the law.”

One thing that would likely speed up the process, when it begins, is that many casinos in Pennsylvania have already agreed to partnerships with companies that would provide an online platform, meaning once licensing regulations are worked out, licenses will likely be applied for immediately.

What happened when New Jersey launched online poker and gambling?

Using the New Jersey iGaming launch as a comp could give the best insight into how long online poker and gambling might take to start in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Chris Christie signed the online gaming bill into law in February of 2013. New Jersey fully launched online gaming in November of 2013.

That would make a nine-month timeframe for PA seem entirely achievable. Officials in PA have also said they have no desire to reinvent the wheel, and would look the the New Jersey model in implementing online gaming.

The bottom line for a timeframe

In a bullish take on the timeline, online gaming could be operational in the summer of 2016, although that appears exceedingly unlikely. That would require the bill to be passed and singed by the governor in the coming weeks, and it would require the fastest possible timeline of six months to implement.

In the middle range is fall or winter of 2016, if the bill passes in somewhat short order and a timeframe of nine months works out like gaming officials believe.

There’s also a very real chance online gaming and poker wouldn’t launch until 2017, if the legislation gets held up and/or implementation takes a year.

The bottom line? If everything goes well, regulated online poker in Pennsylvania could be a real thing at this time next year. But that’s far from a given.

- 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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