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During a floor session, online gambling supporters watched dueling gambling reform amendments get shot down by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives because of uncertainty over which amendment was which. However, all was not lost.
The Pennsylvania House will take another crack at passing online gambling and other gaming reforms on June 6.
The do-over will take place after lawmakers asked that both amendments be reconsidered, pointing out the bafflement surrounding the votes. Both motions to reconsider passed by wide margins, and are tentatively scheduled to be reconsidered on June 6, the first day the Pennsylvania legislature is back in session.
On face the two amendments seem quite similar, as they contain only a single, relatively minor point of divergence. However, that “minor” divergence – just how far to take VGT expansion – is a legislative poison pill.
Representative John Payne is advocating for A7619, which is a carbon copy of his gaming reform bill HB 649. In addition to online gambling legalization and regulation, A7619 would allow VGTs at select off-track-betting parlors and at six of the state’s airports.
Competing with Payne’s legislation is Representative Marc Mustio’s A7622. Mustio’s plans for gaming reform goes a step beyond Payne’s bill, as it allows taverns and social clubs to add a handful of VGT machines.
This may seem like a minor point, and one both sides could live with either way. But the state’s casinos (11 of the 12 casinos, anyway) are not only backing Payne’s proposal; they are by and large completely opposed to the Mustio amendment, and see VGTs at bars and social clubs as being cannibalistic to their business.
Because of this, A7619 has a decent chance of passing the Pennsylvania Senate should it pass the House. On the other hand, A7622 is seen as a long shot.
The general rule of thumb is that support is built up over time. If Pennsylvania were to fall short this year, it would be a prime contender to pass online gambling legislation in 2017.
But, when it comes to Pennsylvania and online gambling, 2016 may be the state’s best chance to get a bill passed. Reason being, Representative John Payne is retiring at the end of the year.
Payne’s retirement will create an online gambling vacuum in the Pennsylvania legislature, as he’s been the driving force behind online gambling legalization efforts in the Keystone State over the past year and a half.
Payne isn’t the only pro-online gambling lawmaker in the legislature, but he certainly has been the most vocal and the most proactive on this issue. He has put a lot of time and energy into getting a gambling reform bill passed.
Payne likely sees the reform package as one of his hallmark pieces of legislation, a lasting legacy to show for his time as Gaming Oversight Chairman. Passing the gambling reform package, with online gambling as its centerpiece, would send Representative Payne out on a high note, much like an athlete retiring after his team won the championship.
At this time, it’s unclear if any other lawmaker views online gambling as a piece of signature legislation, capable of cementing one’s legacy. It’s also unclear who will replace Payne as the Gaming Oversight Chairperson, and what their thoughts on online gambling will be.
We saw a similar situation in Congress following the retirement of Barney Frank (D-MA) in 2012. Aided by Frank’s persistence, federal online gambling bills garnered a number of hearings and even passed a committee vote between 2009 and 2012.
Since Frank’s retirement, online gambling efforts have devolved at the federal level, and instead of talking about legalization, Congress is now holding hearings on federal online gambling bans.
A failure to pass an online gambling bill this year won’t mark the end of iGaming efforts in the Keystone State, but the vacuum left by Representative Payne’s retirement will send us into 2017 with mountains of uncertainty.