PA Senator Sees Path Forward For Online Gambling

Key Pennsylvania Policymaker: “It Looks Like Online Gaming Has The Support To Pass”

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Pennsylvania Sen. Mario Scavello sees a clear path forward for online gambling regulation in the Keystone State.

That’s per Mark Gueretze over at CDC Gaming Reports.

“Sometime in March, we’ll have something done and passed in the House and Senate,” Scavello told CDC.

“It looks like online gaming has the support to pass.”

Scavello’s take is especially relevant given his position as the new chairman of the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee (CERD), the gatekeeper committee for all gambling-related legislation in the Senate.

Senate viewed as choke point for online gambling in PA

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have been exploring the idea of regulating online gambling for several years. Those efforts reached a peak in 2016 when the state House of Representatives moved an online gambling bill through to the Senate.

That bill failed to clear the Senate prior to the end of the 2016 session. Supporters in the House were quick to point the finger at their Senate colleagues for obstructing progress on the issue.

While it’s far from clear or certain that Senate opponents have definitively backed down, Scavello’s straightforward assessment that online gambling has the necessary support to pass in the Senate suggests that one of the last remaining hurdles for online casino and poker regulation in Pennsylvania may be crumbling.

Legislative vehicle remains an unknown

Exactly what legislative form online gambling regulation will take in Pennsylvania remains unknown at this point.

There are two primary questions in play:

  • How will PA regulate? Some of the answers to this question will be a part of whatever bill emerges, and some will remain up in the air until regulators start the work of writing the rules for the industry post-passage. I suspect that much of HB 2150 will find its way into the language of any credible online gambling bill in 2017, and that Pennsylvania regulators will likely take many cues from their counterparts in New Jersey.
  • What other measures will be packaged with online gambling? It is highly unlikely that online gambling will flow through the legislature as a standalone issue. The only question is what other gambling-related measures will accompany online gambling regulation in the final legislative package. A recent proposal from Sen. Jay Costa may hold some clues on this front.

Dense mesh of gambling issues could complicate matters

Online gambling is only one of a wide array of gambling-related issues in play in Pennsylvania, including:

  • Daily fantasy sports regulation
  • Allowing slots at airports
  • Expansion of video lottery terminals (VLTs)
  • A fix to the “local share” tax issue
  • Licensing additional slot facilities

Stakeholders in the state’s gambling industry are deeply divided on many of the above issues, and the commingling of online gambling with too many additional issues could siphon critical support.

Likewise, the pairing of online gambling with one of the more contentious issues – such as VLTs – could rob regulation of the backing necessary for passage.

Success of New Jersey likely a factor

Pennsylvania’s renewed push for regulated online gambling comes as New Jersey’s regulated online gambling industry closes the books on an incredibly successful year.

Revenue from regulated online casino and online poker in New Jersey helped power Atlantic City to the market’s first annual revenue gain in a decade.

That type of impact is certainly not lost on lawmakers in Pennsylvania, nor is the over $30 million in taxes paid by New Jersey’s regulated gambling sites in 2016 alone.

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- Chris is the publisher of Grove also serves as a consultant to various stakeholders in the regulated market for online gambling in the United States.
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