PA Online Gambling Bill Passes Committee Stage

PennsylvaniaProposals to allow Pennsylvania´s licensed casinos to provide regulated online gambling were passed yesterday by the state´s Gaming Oversight committee.

After sitting on the shelf for almost six months, Representative John Payne´s proposals “providing for authorized interactive gaming” (HB 649) were yesterday dusted off and presented once again to Pennsylvania´s Gaming Oversight committee.

The proposals permit casinos in Pennsylvania to offer online poker and any other casino game already permitted by the state, and for slot machines to be installed at racetrack operators´ OTB venues and at the state´s six international airports.

After an amendment to allow video gaming terminals at restaurants, clubs and bars was rejected under pressure from the state´s casinos, John Payne´s proposals went to a vote and were comfortably passed by a majority of 18-8.

Just One Step on Long Path to Regulation

The initial reaction to the committee´s vote was one of unrestrained joy by advocates of regulated online gambling. However, the passage of HB 649 through the committee stage is just one step on the long path to regulation in Pennsylvania.

Now out of the committee stage, the Bill now has to be presented to the House of Representatives. If passed in the House, the Senate get to hear the proposals. If the Senate approves the proposals without amendments, HB 649 will then land on the desk of Governor Tom Wolf – who has the power to veto the Bill.

If the Senate or the Governor want elements of the proposals changed – for example, if they want the tax rate raised to help fill the hole in the state´s budget – HB 649 will go back to the House of Representatives, and the process will start over. Realistically it could be many months before regulated gambling in Pennsylvania becomes a reality – if at all.

Opponents, Detractors and Critics of HB 649

There are plenty of opponents, detractors and critics lining up to derail the progress of regulated online gambling in Pennsylvania. The Sheldon Adelson-owned Sands Bethlehem is naturally the most vocal opponent to regulation, and the biggest brick and mortar operator in Pennsylvania – Parx Casino – was cheesed off when its proposals for in-person registration were dismissed without consideration.

The horseracing industry – scared of cannibalization – has voiced its opposition to HB 649, unless provision is made for the Race Horse Development Fund. Other parties – including several government organizations – have also pitched for a slice of the regulated gaming pie, prompting fears that the tax rate will have to be hiked in order for the state to see any benefit at all from the legislation.

Furthermore, critics of HB 649 have warned that the proposals are being rushed through the regulatory process for the wrong reasons. As reported on this site at the beginning of the month, respected and experienced gambling journalist Mark Gruetze warned that reacting to a crisis with crisis legislation would not be in the best interests of those most affected by the legislation – the players.

Meanwhile, Online Gaming Continues Alive and Well in PA

Speaking after the committee vote, John Payne told that his proposals were not an expansion of gambling, but the regulation of an activity that is already widespread in Pennsylvania. Gesturing to his Smartphone he told reporters:

Go outside and get a good signal and you can go on there and play poker right now. I didn’t create the ability to go on that device and gamble. That’s there now. Been there for the last three, four, five, six, seven years.

Payne explained that the goals of his Bill was to protect the state´s stake in an increasingly competitive gaming industry and to provide a revenue tool to legislative leaders. He added that the Bill would also offer protection to online gamblers by criminalizing the provision of online gambling by unregulated sites – although he conceded that the legislation required to achieve his goals may not occur in time for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett