Online Gambling Vote Turns Into Pandemonium In Pennsylvania

Confusion And Debate Muddy Online Gambling Attempt In Pennsylvania

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On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives was quite busy.

As legislators attempt to wrap up the 2015/2016 session, the legislative body held votes on a number of bills.

Among the measures the House considered was the legalization of online gambling in the state.

On the online gaming front, Tuesday’s proceedings can best be summed up by quoting the lyrics of the rock band Genesis, as it was “the land of confusion” on the Pennsylvania House floor.

Instead of John Payne’s HB 649, the gambling reform the state has been working on for over a year, the fate of online gambling resided in an amendment, or more accurately, two amendments, that would be added to a separate gaming bill, HB 1925.

It appears the emergence of these new vehicles complicated matters and created chaos in the legislature.

Yesterday’s confusion explained

The two competing amendments, both of which contained language that would legalize online gambling, were up for consideration on Tuesday.

Both amendments failed to pass, but both were also put up for reconsideration and inexplicably, easily garnered a majority.

The first amendment, A7622, was a gaming reform bill that included, among other things, online gaming as well as the addition of video gaming terminals (VGTs) at non-casino locations.

VGTs have solid – though not overwhelming – support in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, but possess little backing in the Senate or among the state’s casino interests. The amendment was soundly defeated by a vote of 66-122.

The second amendment up for consideration, A7619, was nearly identical, with the lone exception that it did not contain VGTs. This amendment was also defeated, but by a much closer vote tally, 81-107.

It wasn’t until Rep. Payne went to the floor to speak about his amendment, A7619, that all hell broke loose.

Rep. Payne was listed as the author of both, but this may have been an error, as he clearly only supported A7619 (which he called a mirror of HB 649). Payne voted against A7622, which was dubbed the “Mustio Bill,” named after its author, Rep. Mark Mustio.

This authorship error seems to have been the origin of the confusion, as several supporters of VGTs apparently voted against A7622 thinking it was Payne’s non-VGT amendment, and not Mustio’s amendment.

These lawmakers later voted against A7619, expecting their VGT bill would be reconsidered – an assumption that proved to be correct. Both A7622 and A7619 will be reconsidered at a later date.

The overarching question is: If the VGT amendment is once again defeated, will the VGT supporters cut their losses and vote for the Payne amendment the second time around, considering its a bill that includes all of the same things sans VGTs?

Problems beyond VGTs

Of course, VGTs, and who authored what amendment aren’t the only issues online gambling legalization is facing in Pennsylvania. And it appears the vote, pass or fail, will be very close, parliamentary confusion or no parliamentary confusion.

Despite over a year of work and some 47 hearings, some lawmakers are still completely in the dark (deliberately or unknowingly) on the topic of online gambling legalization and what it would mean for the state.

One lawmaker expressed concerns about gambling with credit cards, and started rattling off anecdotal evidence from his time working at Mohegan Sun where he encountered problem gamblers.

He is apparently unaware that:

  1. You can already use your credit card to gamble online in Pennsylvania at an offshore site.
  2. Most credit cards allow customers to take cash advances.

Rep. Payne and Rep. George Dunbar both took aim at this bogeyman claim.

“If you are going to vote ‘no’, please don’t use the crutch that it’s because you want to protect people,” Payne said from the floor of the House. “The protections are in this amendment.”

“You can gamble online in Pennsylvania right now,” Dunbar told the House. “I guarantee you, I can walk out of this building and play poker tonight at the Radisson Hotel. I can use a credit card to do it.”

Another lawmaker feared what would happen if American Legion halls and other small businesses were denied the revenue from a handful of VGT machines.

Yet another lawmaker compared the situation (VGTs or no VGTs) to Main Street vs. Wall Street.

What happens next?

It’s unclear when the legislature will reconsider these amendments.

If Tuesday’s proceedings were steeped in confusion, it could be as soon as today. This is a strong possibility.

If more behind the scenes whipping up of votes is needed, it could be a few days down the road. This is also a likely outcome.

And if the votes simply aren’t there, they may not reconsider either of the proposals. This is less likely to happen.

- 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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