"We Are Just Hurting Ourselves" By Not Passing Online Gambling Legislation, PA Rep. Payne Says

Pennsylvania Online Gambling Chances “50/50” Right Now, Rep. Payne Says

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Next week, Pennsylvania lawmakers in the House Gaming Oversight Committee will take another look at regulated online gaming for the Keystone State.

The hearing would add to the growing list of meetings on the proposal.

The bill has been discussed more than 50 separate times since the start of 2015, according to Pennsylvania Rep. John Payne, sponsor of the legislation.

Pennsylvania’s House approved internet betting by a 114-85 vote in late June.

The measure has sat in the Senate since then with no action.

Governor Tom Wolf would have the measure on his desk if Senate lawmakers sign off on the legislation in the handful of days left in the session.

All eyes on Harrisburg this fall

Payne said on Thursday, Oct. 13 that he’s still “doing everything I can” to get online casino gaming, as well as daily fantasy sports, regulated in his state. However, he said he’s a “realist” and at this stage in the game, the chances of the Senate taking action this year are “50/50.”

In addition to time running out in the session, Payne is retiring at the end of November. That means that a different lawmaker will have to spearhead the efforts next year.

Payne said a “brand new bill” would have to come forward next year. “Everything starts over” on online gaming, he said, but he added that the “groundwork” has been laid this year.

According to Payne, the Gaming Oversight Committee is “a lot more knowledgeable” about online gaming thanks to the work done this year.

Pennsylvania’s casino tax situation

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down a local casino tax that has left communities with a casino very concerned. Some communities are set to miss out on $10 million a year in much-needed slot tax revenue, but the legislature is expected to step in quickly and fix the code.

Lawmakers have 120 days to do so. Online gaming could be part of the equation. However, Payne doesn’t think that the two issues will be tackled together this year.

“It’s a matter of whether the Senate wants to do [online] gaming this year,” Payne said of the activity that could give the state an immediate $100 million in new revenue.

He said the local tax ruling would have a “severe impact” on Pennsylvania communities if left uncorrected.

Competition from neighboring states

States surrounding Pennsylvania are bolstering their respective casino industries, and so lawmakers are trying to keep their casino market competitive.

At more than $3 billion annually, Pennsylvania is the second largest commercial casino gambling market in the country. It trails only Nevada.

“No one around us is sitting around doing nothing,” Payne said. He added that Pennsylvania doesn’t want to end up like Atlantic City, which lost five casinos in less than three years.

In the absence of Pennsylvania online gaming, the Philadelphia-area SugarHouse Casino launched an online gambling product in New Jersey last month. Payne said he’s “thrilled” to see the casino get into online betting.

“We are just hurting ourselves,” he said about Pennsylvania not legalizing and regulating online gaming for its 12 brick-and-mortar casinos.

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Brian Pempus
- Brian Pempus writes for a number of industry publications centered around the regulated US online gambling industry. He is a graduate of Penn State. Brian lives in Ohio and has been involved in the gambling industry since 2009.