PA Online Gambling Moves Ahead

Fate Of Daily Fantasy Sports, Online Gambling Linked In Pennsylvania As Bill Moves Forward In House

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In a surprise vote on Wednesday evening, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed an amendment that linked a number of gaming reforms, including the legalization of online gambling, to the state’s daily fantasy sports regulation bill.

The amendment to HB 2150, numbered 8734, was authored by Representative Rosita Youngblood, and was easily passed (115-80).

Success came after earlier defeat

Youngblood introduced the amendment following a contentious vote that centered around the authorization of video gaming terminals (VGTs) at bars and taverns throughout the state.

The VGT amendment was lumped in with online gambling and the other proposed gaming reforms by its supporters, forcing a vote on a bill with VGTs before a vote on a bill without VGTs could be taken.

The amendment that included VGT expansion at bars and taverns failed by a vote of 116-79. The House then briefly adjourned, and, on return, passed Rep. Youngblood’s amendment.

Where HB 2150 stands now

HB 2150 now includes the regulation of daily fantasy sports, legalization of online gambling in PA (casino and poker), as well as multiple other gaming reforms. The full text of the amendment was not available as of this article.

The bill will now be sent to the House Appropriations Committee (a necessary step to make sure all the fiscal numbers add up) and then back to the House floor where it can be voted on.

If passed by the House, the bill’s next stop is the Pennsylvania State Senate, and from there it would be on to Governor Tom Wolf’s desk.

While a firm timeline is unavailable, the bill’s positioning as a solution to Pennsylvania’s budget shortfall strongly implies that we’ll see action sooner than later.

Everything revolved around VGTs

Several weeks ago we watched as similar dueling amendments (a comprehensive gaming reform with VGTs and a comprehensive gaming reform bill without VGTs) were introduced into the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

Amidst much confusion, both proposals failed to pass. But, because of the confusion (it was stated that members didn’t know which bill they were voting for) the House voted to reconsider both bills.

As I intimated last month, the legislature seemed to be holding off on online gaming and the other reforms while they finalized their plans for daily fantasy sports, which would allow them to wrap all of these gaming measures into one neat package.

This appears to have been the case, as the vehicle for online gaming and the other reforms was the state’s DFS bill that recently passed committee.

This time around there wasn’t any confusion when it come to what proposal representatives were voting for or against. The amendment with VGT expansion failed to pass by a margin of 37 votes, and the gaming reform sans VGTs passed by a near identical margin, 35 votes.

This was the best possible outcome for supporters of online gambling, as VGTs are believed to be even more unpopular in the Pennsylvania State Senate than they were in the House. Many considered inclusion of VGTs in an omnibus package to be the proverbial poison pill.

What happens in the Senate?

As it lacks VGT expansion at bars and taverns, HB 2150 should arrive at the Senate baggage-free. Should it reach them, there is a reasonable chance the Senate passes the bill unchanged, or relatively unchanged (although there are some lurking questions in the Senate around issues such as tax rates).

Also helping the bill’s chances is the simple fact that the state is in search of new revenue streams now that Governor Tom Wolf has backed off his tax demands. Online gaming and the other gaming reforms in HB 2150 are arguably among the lowest-hanging fruit.

The stage is set for Pennsylvania. Now all they have to do is act.

- 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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