With Online Gambling’s Status Unknown In PA, Lawmakers Eye Sports Betting, Fantasy

September 29, 2015
With Online Gambling’s Status Unknown In PA, Lawmakers Eye Sports Betting, Fantasy

Whether online gambling has a place in Pennsylvania’s final budget is anyone’s guess, at this point. As such, some lawmakers and the media in Pennsylvania have moved onto other topics in the gaming sector — namely sports betting and daily fantasy sports.

First, what’s going on with online gambling?

There continue to be assurances that online gambling is a part of the ongoing conversation in the state — the latest from All American Poker Network CEO David Licht saying that online gambling is “still on the table.”

Rep. John Payne, one the legislators who introduced a bill containing online gambling language, also said iGaming is in the mix, and that he remains optimistic of its inclusion in the budget.

But, so far, there has been little to no public back-and-forth between Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican lawmakers about online gambling in relation to the ongoing budget impasse, which is nearing three months in length.

Little common ground between the two sides has been found even on issues that have already been publicly debated. While online gambling has had a hearing in the Senate back in June, the shape iGaming might take in its final form hasn’t even been agreed to by its proponents.

Right now, unless all the conversation about online gambling is going on behind closed doors — which is at least feasible — iGaming becoming a part of the final budget still feels like the odds are against online gambling.

That leaves us with gaming initiatives that people do want to talk about publicly.

Sports betting in PA?

House Gaming Oversight Committee Democratic Chairman Nick Kotik announced that he wants to introduce legislation that would legalize sports betting.

The bill would seek to regulate sports betting, which is currently only legal in Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. Despite that, sports betting goes on almost everywhere in the United States; nearly $100 billion will be wagered illegally on football games alone in the U.S.

The bill would not allow online sports betting, but would allow Pennsylvania’s licensed casinos to take sports bets.

“While slot machines and table games are a relatively new industry for Pennsylvania, this bill is a direct reflection of the gamut gaming runs and why expanded forms should be considered,” Kotik said in a release declaring his intentions.

While the bill sounds good on its face, it’s likely to meet the same fate as the sports betting law in New Jersey, unless it wins an appeal in federal appeals court. New Jersey passed a law trying to authorize sports betting within its borders, but has not been successful with turning back court challenges to the law under the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. PASPA prevents states from offering sports betting — other than the four states mentioned above.

So, even if the bill passes, it would take a longshot court victory for New Jersey or the repeal of PASPA by Congress. That leaves consideration of online gambling and daily fantasy sports legislation more likely, at least in the short term.

Daily fantasy sports in PA, take one

Mainstream media interest in daily fantasy sports — sites like DraftKings and FanDuel — has been fueled by an advertising blitz by those two operators. And that has brought more attention, and scrutiny, to the industry.

The interest from PA comes on two fronts.

First, Pennsylvania may review DFS in the legislature. That would mirror the proposed hearing in the U.S. Congress and the closer look that some states are taking at DFS.

The news that Pennsylvania was interested in a hearing was buried in a report from a Pittsburgh TV station:

But while Rep. Dom Costa, who sits on the state House Oversight Gaming Committee, wants a thorough review, at this point he doesn’t think they should be shut down or taxed.

How much momentum a DFS hearing in PA has is unknown.

DFS in PA, take two

On the other front, momentum for a bill that would allow brick-and-mortar interests in the state to run fantasy contests has gathered some support.

PennLive penned an editorial backing the bill from Rep. George Dunbar, which was actually introduced earlier this year (HB 1197). In the editorial, PennLive reiterated its support of online gaming:

We have previously said that Pennsylvania legislators should pass an online gaming bill, both because the state needs the money to close the budget gap and, simply, because it can.

We are past the times when “gaming” (the new-and-improved term to try to take away the stigma of gambling) was done with dice in back alleys. State lotteries are government-backed gaming. Casinos are legal. We can bet the ponies if we want. We have passed the discussion about the morality of whether it should be codified. It is.

So if casinos can benefit from being nudged toward daily or weekly fantasy sports leagues, and more revenue and then tax dollars returned to Pennsylvanians, so be it.

The prospects of Pennsylvania online gambling remain a mystery. But the appetite for gaming expansion and regulation remain strong in the state.

Photo by Jim Bowen used under license CC BY 2.0

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