With Legislative Clock Tick Ticking, Online Gambling Advocates See Possibility Of Another Year With No Movement

Online Gambling Legalization Efforts Coming Down To The Wire In Several States

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The 2016 legislative calendar is beginning to wind down in several states, and it’s starting to feel like déjà vu all over again.

Despite valiant – and ongoing – efforts in several states, the smart money says we’re about to experience our third consecutive year with no progress on the legal online gambling front.

Attempts to legalize online gambling are far from over in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and California. Supporters in all three state legislatures are all making late pushes to pass legislation, but the clock is ticking.

In all three states, it appears as if online gambling will get its last stand for 2016 in June.

Pennsylvania online gambling could be decided by Elks Clubs

Things were looking pretty grim after two separate amendments, A7622 and A7619, both containing language that would have legalized online gambling in the state, were voted down by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives during a floor session on Tuesday, May 24.

However, a second vote, a vote for reconsideration, was held for both amendments. This time around both pieces of legislation easily passed, offering a glimmer of hope to online gambling advocates.

The latest reports out of Harrisburg indicate the online gambling measures might next be considered during a session on June 6, but which amendment the legislature chooses to support will likely determine online gambling’s fate.

At issue is the addition of video gaming terminals, or VGTs.

VGTs are essentially another name for slot machines, and while both bills would expand their presence in Pennsylvania, A7619 would only see them added at select off-track betting parlors and behind secured areas of six international airports. On the other hand, A7622 would allow for a wider proliferation of these machines throughout the state, including in taverns and social clubs.

A7619 would have the support of the casino industry, while A7622 would not, and would likely not pass the Pennsylvania Senate.

The good news is that A7619 received far more votes than A7622 the first time around:

  • A7619: 81-107
  • A7622: 66-122

However, there was some confusion surrounding the two amendments (which ultimately led to the vote for reconsideration) that will likely cause a shift in the voting. The question is: Which proposal will pick up added support, and will that support be enough to get the amendment passed?

Fortunately, failure to pass isn’t the end of online gambling in Pennsylvania. Online gambling will likely remain a possibility until the Pennsylvania Legislature passes a budget, which could potentially drag into the winter, based on last year’s still-unresolved budget stalemate.

California online poker still faces long odds

According to reports by Dave Palermo, California Assemblyman Adam Gray’s online poker bill, AB 2863, could be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on June 15, provided Gray and the state’s online poker stakeholders can hash out a few compromises – a tall order in California.

Considering the unresolved issues Adam Gray’s online poker legalization bill still contains, passage of the current version of the bill by Appropriations would be a relatively neutral development.

Last year, an online poker “shell” bill managed to pass the Appropriations committee, before sitting untouched for the remainder of the year because it failed to address the key issues that have split various gaming interests over the years.

Should the Appropriations Committee pass a complete online poker bill, the Assembly and Senate would have until August 31 to green light AB 2863 and send it to the governor’s desk for consideration.

Until Gray and the various stakeholders are able to hash out the suitability issue, the bill is essentially stuck in purgatory.

In Michigan, the budget comes first

Michigan is still a wildcard in the online gambling discussion.

In an interview in mid-May, Michigan State Senator Mike Kowall told OnlinePokerReport.com he saw no reason why his online gambling legalization bill, SB 889, couldn’t pass in 2016, with the caveat that it (along with everything else the state might be considering) would be put on hold until the state’s budget was finalized.

“Nothing happens while we’re in the thralls of the budget,” Kowall told OPR, but later added, “I’m fairly confident we can get it done. There’s still time to get it out of the Senate and sent over to the House for consideration.”

Kowall expects another committee hearing to take place (where the Michigan Regulatory Reform Committee would vote on his online gambling bill) after some amendments are made to the bill. Assuming passage in the Regulatory Reform Committee, this would be followed by a floor vote in the Senate that would send the measure over to the Michigan House of Representatives for consideration.

However, in Michigan time is truly of the essence.

No firm date has been set, but the legislature is expected to wrap up its session by the end of June, according to Kowall. If the budget talks drag on, or other issues are broached, online gambling could easily be pushed to the side.

- 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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