The Future Of Pennsylvania’s Online Gambling Bill Has Little To Do With Online Gambling

Dustin Gouker May 26, 2016 1404 Reads
PA online gambling amendments in limbo

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives twice voted on amendments that would have added online gambling to a bill this week.

Twice, the House defeated those amendments. Twice, the House brought both possible amendments back with “motions to reconsider.”

What’s all that mean for the hopes of legal Pennsylvania online gambling? It’s not game over, and the issue is back on the House agenda in two weeks, according to a recent media report.

The most frustrating part for online gambling proponents? The issue of online gambling is not a contentious one; it’s another form of gambling expansion that is halting PA’s progress.

What happened in PA gambling, at glance

Early this week, it came to light that online gambling was back on the legislature’s agenda, along with other gaming expansions.

What form that effort would take wasn’t clear until Tuesday rolled around, when lawmakers attempted to a load a new bill — HB 1925 — with gambling provisions that had previously appeared in HB 649.

In what was a confusing day forlots of members in the House and observers alike, both proposed amendments failed before being resurrected to be considered another day.

Both amendments featured the regulation and legalization of online poker and casino games. The two amendments were identical except for one item, which is at the crux of the issue.

Online gambling isn’t the issue

At core, what you need to know about online gambling’s prospects in Pennsylvania comes down to this: It’s not about online gambling.

The proposed PA gambling expansion as a unit, and online gambling in particular, aren’t that controversial. In fact, a lot of folks in the PA legislature want the gambling expansion to help fund the state budget, and in particular to address a shortfall in pension funding.

What it’s all about is video gaming terminals being authorized at taverns and private clubs. One of the proposed amendments allowed VGTs; one did not.

Most lawmakers in PA aren’t opposed to the gambling expansion; they are just opposed to or pushing for the VGT measure.

The consternation over VGTs

The Morning Call broke down the battle over gambling pretty simply in its report, which indicated the gambling expansion — and by default online gambling — will be considered again, in the first week of June:

To score your lobbyists, here’s what you need to know: Taverns and Elks clubs want slots in their establishments. Casinos do not want more slots for fear they will cannibalize their business. Casinos, however, are split on legalizing online gambling.

So can the lobbyists for the state Licensed Beverage & Tavern Association win the day by securing enough votes from rural lawmakers wanting to make nice with the Elks? Or will casinos lobbyists unite to out maneuver the tavern association?

(One caveat: almost all casinos in PA — outside of Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Bethlehem — seem to be in favor of online gambling.)

What’s next for online gambling and the gaming bill?

When HB 1925 comes before the full house again — on June 6, the Morning Call reports — those same two amendments will be back on the table.

It’s clear that the House wants to pass one of these amendments to advance the bill to the Senate. The Senate, however, has long been said to be thoroughly against the VGT measure because of casino interests. That idea was reinforced by a Gambling Compliance report (paywall) this week.

Online gambling seems to be a favorite to end up in the House bill. But if it is tied to VGTs, it appears set to die at a later date without coming to fruition.

No matter what, June 6 will be the most crucial day yet for the future of Pennsylvania online poker and gambling.