Criminalize Online Gambling? Pennsylvania Lawmakers Introduce New Bill

March 13, 2017
Criminalize Online Gambling? Pennsylvania Lawmakers Introduce New Bill

Not everyone in the Pennsylvania legislature is on board with the idea of legal online gambling. That became abundantly clear at last week’s joint hearing of the House Gaming Oversight Committee and the Senate Community Economic & Recreational Development Committee.

Now there’s even a bill to make online gambling explicitly illegal in the state.

New bill surfaces… against PA online gambling

Five Republicans in the PA House of Representatives made their opposition to online gambling crystal clear. They introduced a bill, HB 801, that would prohibit and criminalize online gambling in the Keystone State. That came just a few days after the iGaming hearing.

Per the legislation, “The board shall not promulgate rules and regulations allowing any form of Internet gambling.”

As noted above, the bill would also criminalize online gambling in the state, as the text states:

“No individual or entity shall solicit, invite, collect or accept cash or any other form of currency through the Internet for the purposes of wagering or betting. No individual or entity shall organize, or cause to be organized, any type of gambling event that is held over the Internet.”

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What’s in the PA online gambling criminalization bill

The penalty for violating the bill would escalate with each offense. But is far from being any kind of meaningful deterrent. The fine for a first offense is a mere $300, followed by a $600 fine and/or up to three days in jail for a second offense, and the charge of a third degree misdemeanor thereafter.

The bill’s primary sponsor is Rep. Thomas Murt.

The co-sponsors of the legislation are:

  • Matthew Baker
  • Robert Kauffman
  • Craig Staats
  • Will Tallman
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 Not the first prohibition attempt in PA

In 2014, then state Rep. Mario Scavello proposed legislation that would criminalize online gambling. Interestingly, Scavello is now the chairman of the Senate CERD Committee and will be a key player in the state’s crafting of a gaming bill.

Scavello’s 2014 bill reads very similarly to Murt’s current effort:

“A person commits a summary offense if he or she solicits, invites, collects or accepts cash, credit or another form of currency or a payment through a payment network for the purposes of wagering or betting through the Internet or an online service, on a game that simulates a casino style game or a game allowed under the following…”

Scavello’s proposed criminalization of online gambling received modest support in the House at the time, with 16 cosponsors backing the legislation. That included two of the representatives involved in the latest prohibition effort, Murt and Baker.

Despite this support from his colleagues, the bill was quickly abandoned. Polling by Online Poker Report at the time found Pennsylvanians roundly rejected the idea.

Considering where Pennsylvania is on this issue, and the abandonment of the previous prohibition/criminalization attempt, the bill is likely to be little more than a minor distraction… if that.

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