A Pennsylvania committee passed an online gambling bill that would legalize and regulate poker and casino games in the state, the closest any jurisdiction has gotten to allowing iGaming since New Jersey.
Action on PA online gambling comes swiftly
There had been some chatter that progress had been made on online gambling legislation, but then the issue suddenly appeared on the agenda of the House Gaming Oversight Committee early in the week, as related by the Poker Players Alliance.
On Wednesday morning, the committee considered HB 649 — sponsored by committee chairman John Payne — an online gaming-only bill that has been on the sidelines since the spring. After some discussion, the bill passed the committee:
ICYMI, PA Gaming Committee PASSES bill to license Internet #poker and other casino games 18-8. PA players stay tuned for how to help
— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) November 18, 2015
The bill was amended, according to The Associated Press, to also allow “slot machines at airports and off-track betting parlors.” Later, the details of an “omnibus amendment” to the bill became public knowledge, meaning HB 649 is no longer just about iGaming, and includes a suite of other changes to PA’s gambling law and gambling revenue measures.
The progress for HB 649 comes as the state has made progress on a months-long budget stalemate. The committee vote could signal that the iGaming bill — and the revenue it would generate for the state in terms of licensing fees and taxes — could be a part of a revenue package that ends up in the final budget.
John Pappas, executive director of the PPA, was upbeat after the vote, although this is still just one step toward passing a bill:
“With the passage of H.B. 649, the House Gaming Oversight Committee has proven their commitment to providing Pennsylvania residents with a safe and regulated place to play online poker within their own borders,” Pappas said. “The PPA thanks Chairman John Payne and the Committee for their leadership. Now this bill needs to become law. The safety of consumers and the fiscal health of Pennsylvania will be vastly improved when Internet gaming is appropriately licensed, regulated and taxed. It is our hope that the legislation will be enacted on its own or as part of the state’s 2016 budget by the end of this year.”
What would the gambling and poker bill do in PA?
The bill would allow brick-and-mortar interests who currently have gaming licenses in the state to apply for a license to offer online poker and casino games as well. Casinos could partner with vendors/companies that could provide an online gaming or poker platform. (Several casino and online platforms have already announced partnerships; it is believed the bill would allow PokerStars to enter the market, if it so chooses.)
Other key provisions of the bill, as originally written:
- Players would have to be located within Pennsylvania to play.
- Gaming revenue would be taxed at a rate of 14%
- An online gaming license would cost $5 million for operators, $1 million for “significant vendors.”
- Players would have to be 21 years of age.
- The bill anticipates the ability to allow for interstate player pooling, although does not expressly authorize it.
What’s next for PA’s online gambling bill?
This is still just the first step for the bill. It would need to pass the full House and Senate, or possibly get attached to an overarching budget package.
There had been no less than five bills that have been introduced in Pennsylvania. That includes a Senate bill last discussed in committee in June —SB 900 — that had some very different ideas about how to handle iGaming, most notably a 54% tax rate. SB 900 was also a wide-ranging gaming bill, of which online gaming was only one component.
How the Senate wants to proceed is an unknown, at this point, but it’s certainly possible that Payne — who has indicated he has been working behind the scenes on this bill for some time — has done some legwork with his Senate counterparts to pave the way for his bill.
Online gambling and poker legalization in Pennsylvania is far from a done deal; for instance, we saw an online poker bill pass a committee vote in California earlier this year, albeit under very different circumstances. But the passage of Payne’s legislation by the gaming committee is certainly a positive development.
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