The debate over PA online gambling has been going on for years, despite attempts at revisionist history

Opponents Of Pennsylvania’s New Gaming Law Are Using A Ridiculous Argument Against It

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Having failed to convince based on the merits of their argument, opponents of online gambling are employing a new tactic: complaining that a new Pennsylvania law was enacted under the cloak of darkness.

So far this argument is 0-1, as it fell on deaf ears in Pennsylvania.

We need more time to peruse this bill that’s been around for three years

Before voting, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives debated the merits of the gaming package it passed last week for some five hours over the course of two days.

Over and over, lawmakers opposing the legislation argued they hadn’t been given the opportunity to read the 900-page bill. (The bill is really more like 500 pages, with 400 pages of stricken language.) They complained it was being rammed through the legislature, without going through the normal channels.

Some lawmakers noted that not a single hearing was held on the bill. Others called for the bill to go back to committee, where it could be further discussed, and hearings could be held.

Local newspapers picked up the torch, and called on Gov. Tom Wolf to blow up the Pennsylvania budget by vetoing the gaming bill.

This is all a moot point now. Wolf has now signed the bill into law.

However, this type of rhetoric still needs to be called out for what it is, because it will undoubtedly rear its head in other states down the road.

How much time and debate gaming do you need?

While technically true, the notion that the bill was sprung on its detractors and not properly vetted through hearings is baloney.

Other than the final tax rates, the online gambling package is virtually unchanged from the proposal that has been floating around the halls of Harrisburg during the past three legislative sessions. And while this specific bill may not have received a hearing, that’s only because over 50 hearings were held on online gambling in the past three years.

The provisions dealing with daily fantasy sports, video gaming terminals and online lottery are also not new. They’ve all been discussed in hearings. And DFS was part of the final gaming bill from 2016, although VGTs didn’t receive enough votes. The same is true for the bill components impacting Category 3 casinos and tablet gaming at airports.

The only “new” component of the law is satellite casinos, and even that has been on the table for several months in talks behind the scene.

Maybe some of the specifics are new, but none of the major components are new issues. Lawmakers saying they haven’t had time to properly consider the proposals in the bill had more than a year to familiarize themselves with these issues.

Far from sneaking up on them, these lawmakers willfully ignored gaming.

And more to the point, if they had constructive input, the gaming package has been linked to this year’s budget all along. Revenue from expanded gaming was included in the governor’s proposed budget released in February.

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PA online gambling avoids purgatory

Bottom line: It’s completely disingenuous for opponents of expanded gaming to play the “we haven’t had time to properly review the bill” card.

Anyone interested in the gaming reforms had ample time to:

  • attend hearings;
  • review the proposals individually; or
  • look at draft legislation that has been floating around behind the scenes.

As House Majority Leader Dave Reed said during the floor debate last week, calls for the bill to go back to committee weren’t for vetting purposes. They were attempts to kill the bill.

During the floor debate, Reed called out some of his colleagues, like Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Scott Petri, who were calling for a slower process and for the bill to return to his committee.

“[The bill] isn’t being sent back for further vetting,” Reed said. “It’s being sent back to die. If it goes back we’ll never see it again.”

And Reed is spot on. Since taking over the Gaming Oversight Committee following the retirement of the pro-gaming John Payne, Petri has played the role of obstructionist par excellence. Petri was such a thorn in the side of gaming proponents that the bill had to circumvent his committee entirely earlier this year.

These attempts may have ultimately failed in Pennsylvania, but it’s a good bet the same tactics will pop up in other states.

- 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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