The Pennsylvania Senate Just Laid Out a Potential Roadmap to Regulated Online Gambling

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The Pennsylvania State Senate took a decisive step in the direction of bringing regulated online gambling to PA with today’s passage of SR 273.

SR 273 is a resolution that calls for the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the “current condition and future viability of gaming” in Pennsylvania.

The resolution specifically directs the committee to “analyze the potential impact of online gaming on the gaming industry, including the impact online gaming may have on the Commonwealth’s tax revenues and employment at the Commonwealth’s casinos.”

While short of a bill bringing online poker to Pennsylvania, the resolution is a critical step on the legislative path to regulated PA online poker and casino games.

Read the full text here.

While a resolution calling for a study of online gambling may seem relatively minor, it’s backed by a powerful coalition of lawmakers and is viewed as a highly plausible precursor to gambling expansion in Pennsylvania.

The timeline from here

The passage of SR 273 sets off a short legislative timer. There are two important dates in play:

  • May 1st, 2014: That’s the deadline for the LB&FC to issue their findings – and recommendations – to the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
  • June 30th, 2014: That’s the deadline for Pennsylvania lawmakers to pass a budget.

If online gambling is going to be part of the state’s plans to plug an estimated $1 billion budget gap, we’ll know by then.

NJ online gambling launch cited as justification

Senate President Joseph Scarnati, the primary sponsor of SR 273, called New Jersey’s launch of regulated online gambling a wake-up call for Pennsylvania.

“With New Jersey doing internet gaming, and I believe the main intent was to get customers back from Pennsylvania,” Scarnati told, “we need to be a bit more aware of where we want to head with gaming. And what we want to do is keep those customers.”

Prospects for online gambling regulation in PA

John Pappas, Executive Director of the Poker Player’s Alliance said that “a Senate-led Republican bill should have significant support in the Senate and with the Administration. The House, and the anti-gaming faction there, will be the challenge to overcome.”

Bill Ryan, Chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Board, told attendees at the World Regulatory Briefing in October that “I don’t see any real groundswell right now for Internet gaming.”

But Republican Senator Kim Ward of Westmoreland offered a contrasting view on the prospects for regulated online gambling this week to, claiming that “my gut says we’ll be starting to work on that soon.”

The Adelson factor

Vocal iGaming opponent Sheldon Adelson is a part of the mix via the Las Vegas Sands’ ownership of the Sands Bethlehem.

Company officials confirmed exploration of a sale of the Bethlehem property back in January of 2013.

Pappas cautioned against underestimating Adelson, but added that “in my interactions with state lawmakers to this point, the Sheldon opposition has not been raised.”

Outcomes in NJ could play critical role

Pennsylvania politicians have been saying for months that the trajectory of New Jersey’s online gambling industry will exert a powerful influence over their decision to pursue regulated Internet gambling.

Issues that will impact the decision in Pennsylvania include:

  • What sort of revenue New Jersey derives from regulated online gambling / poker. First word on this will come January 14th.
  • What, if any, political blowback ensues.
  • What impact regulated online gambling has on NJ’s land based-revenues.
  • What perceived impact NJ iGaming has on Pennsylvania’s land-based revenues.

With gambling revenue growth grinding to a halt and a budget crisis on the horizon, that final question will loom large in the minds of Pennsylvania politicians.

- 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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