During an impromptu press conference on Tuesday, two Democratic Pennsylvania state senators discussed a number of this year’s hot legislative topics, and nestled into their 20 minute talk were some interesting remarks regarding the push for online gambling in the House of Representatives.
The fact that iGaming was present among such issues as the budget and confirming newly-elected Governor Tom Wolf’s appointees is a strong indicator that online gambling isn’t a fringe issue in the state capitol.
According to a report in PennLive.com, Senator Jay Costa, (D-Allegheny County), told the assembled press he’s not sure if the issue has much momentum outside the walls of the Capitol, but – and this is an important but – he’s willing to look at the proposals.
Improved chance for online poker bill to pass in House
This is good news for Representative John Payne and his online gambling bill HB 649.
Payne, who chairs the House Gaming Oversight Committee, which is the first hurdle any online gambling bill would need to clear, is taking this issue seriously. Payne’s efforts are not a dog and pony show designed to placate gaming.
In an interview earlier this year, Payne stated:
“My job is to introduce legislation in the Gaming Committee that we can present to our leadership team in May and say ‘If we’re serious about this, and we do Internet gaming it would generate this much revenue; fantasy sports this much; fix the small games bill it would do this much; something in private clubs it would do this much.’”
With Payne and Democratic co-chair Nick Kotik leading the charge, an online gaming bill has a solid chance of passing the GO Committee, which is likely to happen following a string of online gambling hearings (there is a third and final hearing scheduled for May 6). Once the hearings conclude, it’s likely HB 649 will be put to a vote in the GO Committee, and head to the House floor.
Knowing that the Senate would be willing to take a look at an online gambling bill coming out of the house should improve the chances that an online gambling bill not only passes the GO Committee, but would be brought to the House floor for a vote.
Even if this were to occur, there are still a lot of pieces that would need to fall into place for a bill to become law, but Senator Costa’s admission that this is a topic being discussed in the state legislature, and he would be willing to have a look at any proposal passed by the House is indeed a positive sign.
If Payne can get an online poker bill through committee, and present the House leadership with the facts, the bill could conceivably pass the House and find itself in the hands of Senator Costa and the rest of the Pennsylvania Senate.
Previous efforts in the Pennsylvania Senate
Most of the online gaming talk in Pennsylvania, this year and in past years, has taken place in the House of Representatives, but the Senate hasn’t been completely silent on the matter.
The three online gaming bills that have been introduced this year all originated in the House:
1. Representative John Payne’s HB 649
2. Representative Nick Miccarelli’s HB 695
3. Representative Tina Davis’s HB 920
Additionally, all of the hearings to discuss online gambling have been scheduled in the House.
All of the Senate’s contributions to the iGaming discussion came in 2014.
Last June the Pennsylvania Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee held a panel hearing on online gambling that was positive, and left observers with the impression that online gambling was a matter of when, not if, in the Keystone State.
For the most part, the Committee was fairly receptive to potential online gaming expansion, as were the witnesses which included representatives from most of the state’s twelve casinos, problem gaming experts, state regulators, and pro-online gaming advocates.
Several weeks after the hearing, State Senator Edwin Erickson introduced an online gaming legalization bill, SB 1368. Erickson’s bill was a last ditch effort to get online gambling added to the budget, but the measure failed to gain enough support.