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Pennsylvania appears to be on the cusp of regulating online gambling and poker, but the passage of a law will likely have to wait until at least September.
Rep. John Payne — the driving force behind online gambling legislation in the state — confirmed to Online Poker Report that online gambling is a planned part of a gambling package the legislature will take up this fall.
“The short version is this: Anything can happen between now and then, and the only thing I can guarantee 100 percent is that on Nov. 30 I am retiring,” Payne told OPR. “But I do think it’s going to become law.”
On Tuesday, reports came out that a gambling expansion package would be counted upon for revenue in the context of funding the Pennsylvania state budget but wouldn’t be acted upon until the fall. Meanwhile, the statehouse and Gov. Tom Wolf agreed upon a larger tax package that would bridge the gap between the new budget and revenue.
What would be in the gaming package — which would generate at least $100 million for the state — wasn’t exactly clear as the budget deal was being hammered out.
But now, Payne and multiple sources made it clear that online gambling is supposed to be in the gaming bill:
Internet poker & iGaming are on the balance sheet for the PA budget. This is very good news and I expect authorization bill this Fall.-JP
— Poker Alliance (@ppapoker) July 13, 2016
The Associated Press, in its summary of the tax deal, also indicated online gambling was figured into the equation:
CASINO GAMBLING EXPANSION: Assumes $100 million from gambling legislation that is on hold until the fall, primarily from licensing fees for legalizing internet gambling.
That’s a moving target. The state House and Senate both reconvene in September. The legislature adjourns in November. The gambling package — which has not yet been formally crafted — could come up at any point in that window. (The House passed a gambling bill in June.)
It would likely be difficult to get to $100 million in revenue, if online gambling isn’t a part of the bill. The $100 million has been earmarked for the budget, and reneging on that promise — without an alternative way to fund the budget — would seem to be out of the question.
Of course, there is a lot of space between now and then, and as Payne said, there is certainly no guarantee that online gambling will definitely be a part of the package. As anyone who follows state governments knows, things can change quickly and without warning.
Payne indicated to OPR that the contentious part of the gambling package was one that would allow an expansion of slot machines at off-track betting parlors.
While there was support in the Senate for gambling expansion, generally, there wasn’t agreement on what should be in the final version. That appears to be why the chamber decided to kick the can down the road.
Payne noted that several other important pieces of legislation had the same thing happen to them — including bills involving state pensions and charter schools. That gives proponents of the legislation reason to be optimistic.
“Multiple things were delayed to the fall,” Payne said. “It’s not like gaming was singled out.”
Online gambling is not a contentious part of the debate around gaming expansion in the state, Payne said.
“At last count eight of the 12 [casinos] would sign up for iGaming on Day One,” said Payne, who also said 10 would likely be on board if online gambling becomes law.
Payne, even a few months before retirement, remained passionate about the work he and the House gaming committee he chairs put in regarding gambling measures.
“We’ve had something like 54 meetings and hearings in the last 18 months,” Payne said. “We’ve traveled all over, and we’ve gotten input from everyone.”
And he said be believes it would be a mistake if Pennsylvania were to pass on online gambling regulation.
“I’m totally convinced that iGaming and fantasy sports — we should regulate them … keep minors off the sites, keep compulsive gamblers off,” Payne said. “And Pennsylvania should get some thing in return.”