Pennsylvania House Passes Online Gambling Legislation, Which Remains An ‘On Again, Off Again’ Proposition

October 27, 2016
Pennsylvania House Passes Online Gambling Legislation, Which Remains An ‘On Again, Off Again’ Proposition

The one sure thing these days for those following the proceedings in the Pennsylvania state legislature regarding online gambling: Nothing is for certain.

Yesterday, the Senate passed a bill — H 1887 — that would fix an unconstitutional tax on the state’s casinos — one that contained no mention of online gambling.

Today, the House amended that same bill, inserting language that would legalize and regulate online gambling and daily fantasy sports, sending it back to the Senate.

What’s it all mean?

Online gambling isn’t dead in PA

The top-level takeaway from the last two days in the PA statehouse: Online gambling is still on the table.

Given the relative lack of action we have seen on iGaming in recent months — even though there was plenty of chatter, including a House hearing — there was a question that we would see any activity this month.

While the Senate continued to punt on the issue of online gambling, the House isn’t having it. It amended the Senate gambling tax fix on Thursday, basically adding provisions it already approved this summer, when it passed a comprehensive gambling bill. The newly amended bill passed 108-71.

Why the different online gambling approaches?

The House seems intent on honoring the promise it made to fund the state budget with $100 million from gambling, most of it coming from iGaming registration fees and taxes.

The Senate, meanwhile, appears to be in no rush to do the same, ignoring the issue (at least publicly), while moving forward on the casino tax fix. (The tax issue is a priority for the state, as it would mean $140 million less going to jurisdictions that host casinos, if the legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf don’t act.)

While some parts of the House-backed gambling expansion are controversial — like the authorization of some video gaming terminals outside of the state’s current casinos — online gambling generally has not been.

Nine casinos in the state recently signed a letter calling for online gambling regulation. Two of the largest facilities in the state — Philadelphia’s Parx Casino and Sands Bethlehem — did not sign the letter.

There is at least a chance that the Sheldon Adelson-owned Sands is wielding out-sized influence the Senate; Adelson has long been an opponent of legalizing online gambling anywhere in the US.

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What’s next for the gambling bill?

The House action puts it back in the Senate’s court. The Senate, however, is not scheduled to meet again until after the November elections. The Senate does have the option to call additional session days before then, but that appears unlikely.

The amended bill appears to be dead on arrival, at least for now, in the Senate.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on the House gambling bill possible being voted on by the Senate:

But the Senate Republican’s general counsel, Drew Crompton, made that sound unlikely.

“We did what we did on gaming and I think that’s all we plan on doing for the rest of the year,” he said, adding: “We hope that come next year we’ll have some renewed energy in order to find the $100 million that we still know is pledged for the ’16-17 year.”

Things have continued to change quickly for online gambling in Pennsylvania. Right now, it appears the effort might be on hold until 2017, with at least a chance of action next month.

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