Pennsylvania i-Gambling Likely More Than One Year Away

PennsylvaniaIt could take at least a year before online gambling becomes a reality in PA due to potential legislative delays, license processing and software testing.

Now that the euphoria has died down about Pennsylvania´s Gaming Oversite Committee passing John Payne´s proposals to [geolink href=””]authorize interactive gambling[/geolink] (HB 649) by a majority of 18-8, the facts about how long it may take before online gambling in Pennsylvania becomes a reality – if at all – are beginning to emerge.

Suggestions at the time that players would be able to have a regulated game of poker within months, if not weeks have vanished in smoke, and speculation about compacts and which companies might enter a regulated market have been found to be premature. It is not even assured that the proposals will become law.

The Online Gambling Legislative Process

Nobody knows for sure how long it might take before HB 649 is debated in the House of Representatives, then sent to the Senate, then returned to the House for amendments, then returned to the Senate and finally being put in front of Gov. Tom Wolf for a signature.

Even if the process runs smoothly, the proposed legislation could easily take three months or more to become law. Then – according to a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board – it could take at least nine months to process license applications and test gambling software.

TribLive Report Identifies Parallels with NJ

Writing for, Mark Gruetze identified parallels between the online gambling legislative process in Pennsylvania and the timeframe for regulating online gambling in New Jersey. Gruetze noted that it took nine months between Gov. Christie signing the Garden State´s online gambling legislation into law and the virtual first hand of cards being dealt.

However, preparations for online gambling in New Jersey were far more advanced at the time Gov. Christie signed the legislation into law – the first draft of the Garden State´s online gambling proposals having been passed by the New Jersey legislature two years previously. Pennsylvania is nowhere near as advanced, although – hopefully – it has learned from New Jersey´s mistakes.

A Smooth Passage is Not Guaranteed

Only three weeks ago, Gruetze wrote an Op-Ed for in which he commented that by reacting to a [budget] crisis with crisis legislation the debate about online gambling in Pennsylvania would not get the scrutiny it needs – at the expense of the players.

Gruetze advocated that [geolink href=””]doing it right is better than doing it fast[/geolink] and there are many people who agree with him – eight of them in Pennsylvania´s Gaming Oversite Committee! Furthermore, with opponents of online gambling still lurking in the corridors of the State Capitol Building, there is no guarantee that HB 649 will receive the smooth passage many advocates of regulated online poker are hoping for.

PPA Optimistic over Timeframe

The Poker Players Association (PPA) – who have contributed a significant amount to the progress that has been made to date in Pennsylvania – are optimistically calling for support to get Pennsylvania´s i-Gambling legislation passed this year (despite there being only four days remaining in the regular 2016 Senate Session).

The self-styled player advocacy group has set up a dedicated web page – “You Can Bring Poker Back to PA” – on which its asks PA residents to email, call and tweet House Representatives, Senators and Gov. Tom Wolf to show their support for regulated online poker. Announcing the launch of the web page, the PPA´s Executive Director John Pappas said:

We are calling on all Pennsylvania poker players to tell the state’s policymakers why passing this bill is so important to Pennsylvanians and urging all poker reporters and activists to help spread the word through media outlets, blogs and social media forums. It is absolutely crucial that Pennsylvania state representatives, senators and Governor Tom Wolf are hearing from their constituents about the consumer benefits of licensing and regulating Internet poker in the state.

Legislation in Place for Next Year, or 2017?

How successful the PPA´s campaign will be is open to debate. Unregulated online poker is alive and well in Pennsylvania (despite the title of the PPA´s web page) and, other than the consumer benefits of licensing and regulation, the only change that only poker players will see should HB 649 become law is smaller player pools, higher rake and reduced player benefits. It might not get that much support.

Hopefully lawmakers in Pennsylvania will take Mark Gruetze´s advice and give online gambling legislation the scrutiny it deserves. As far as online poker is concerned, it is far better not to react to a crisis situation with crisis legislation. By introducing a safe and protected environment for players – with interstate compacts already in place – Pennsylvania can cement its reputation as a leader in gambling regulation.

Better that, than a knee-jerk reaction to a budget crisis. Even if it takes until 2017 to get it right.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett