Will A PA Committee Hearing On Online Gambling Push The Senate To Take Action?

September 22, 2016
Will A PA Committee Hearing On Online Gambling Push The Senate To Take Action?

The Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee will hold a public hearing titled: “Review of States Which Currently Have Fantasy Sports and/or I-Gaming.”

That hearing will come on Sept. 27, just a day after the Pennsylvania Senate returns to Harrisburg from a monthlong hiatus.

What’s up with the new online gambling hearing?

The timing and the scope of the hearing are interesting.

The Senate is currently considering action on a bill that would, among other things, legalize and regulate online gambling and daily fantasy sports in the Keystone State. The bill, HB 2150, has already been passed by the House, and has been earmarked as a $100 million funding source for the 2016-17 budget passed by the legislature (House and Senate) in July.

Unlike the House, the Senate has been noncommittal on the bill, and what elements on which it would be willing to vote. It’s widely believed that if the Senate acts on HB 2150, several of the non-online gaming and DFS elements of the bill will be stripped out or modified. The general consensus is online gambling and DFS are the least contentious parts of the bill.

The Senate is quickly running out of time to pass the bill this year, something some of the House members who have worked tirelessly to get the bill to this point feel is imperative, in order to avoid starting the process from scratch in January.

Unfortunately, the Senate has only nine scheduled session days remaining in 2016: three days in September, from the 26-28, and six days in October, from the 17-19 and from the 24-26.

The hearing could very well be an attempt to instill a sense of urgency in the Senate, and perhaps apply some pressure on fence sitters. According to the legislative calendar, the hearing will be broadcast in real time. US Poker will live blog the hearing, slated for 9 a.m. EST on Sept. 27.

A clarion call to the Senate

In a recent interview, Rep. Rosita Youngblood explained what was at risk if the Senate decides to punt on the gambling expansion bill this year, noting, among other things, that the state is relying on online gambling for $100 million in revenue:

“The issue has been vetted by the current membership of the House and Senate. The leaders of all four caucuses, plus the governor, agreed to include $100 million in revenue from iGaming fees and taxes. So there is no reason to wait to pass something next year when we will have a brand new legislature. It makes no sense.”

Considering the measure has already passed the House, the scheduled hearing in the House Gaming Oversight Committee seems to be a call to action directed at the Senate.

The issue has been front and center in local media, and the hearing will likely be well covered. That will help explain to Pennsylvanians what the bill would do in terms of consumer protections and revenues, and what will happen if the bill isn’t passed — more than likely, a tax increase next session to cover the missing $100 million of funding for the budget.

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What to expect at the hearing

To date, three states have legalized online poker and/or online casino games, but none since 2013, when Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey first launched online gambling.

I suspect representatives from one or more of these states will be on hand to tout the benefits of legalization and regulation, as well as the successes states have had with online gambling, particularly the regulatory successes that have led to robust consumer protections.

On the other side of the ledger, DFS made significant legislative progress in 2016, with eight states legalizing and regulating: New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Colorado, and Missouri.

I’d also expect representatives from the state’s land-based casinos to be present, and all but one (Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Bethlehem Casino) to declare their support for the bill.

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