Regulated Online Poker in Pennsylvania Not Dead – Yet

PennsylvaniaThe Pennsylvania legislature will hold an extra session today, with proponents of regulated online poker hoping proposals will be considered by the Senate.

Since the [geolink href=””]passage of HB 2150[/geolink] by the House of Representatives in June, proponents of regulated online poker in Pennsylvania have been waiting for the bill to regulate Daily Fantasy Sports, online gambling and airport slot machines go before the Senate.

Yesterday was scheduled to be the final day in the current legislative session and, despite hearings going on late into the night, the Senate failed to consider the proposals for igambling – instead voting through a temporary fix to the casino “local tax share” issue.

However, the prospects for regulated online poker in Pennsylvania in 2016 are not dead – yet. An extra session day has been added to the legislative calendar today, with the possibility of further session days being added during the post-election “lame duck” session.

So Many Issues to be Resolved in So Little Time

The Senate´s failure to consider the regulation of online gambling yesterday came as no surprise. As we wrote last week, the [geolink href=””]casino “local tax share” issue[/geolink] was always going to take priority due to the potential for communities to lose up to $140 million per year in tax revenues. That act of legislation in itself was far from uncomplicated, but passed the Senate by a majority of 47-1.

In addition to the “local share tax” issue, there was an eleventh-hour objection to the proposals in their current format from the Senior Vice President of Government Relations for the Penn National Racecourse and Casino – Eric Schippers. Schippers wants to stop out-of-state operators (PokerStars, 888Poker,, etc.) cannibalizing local jobs by partnering with Pennsylvania´s casinos.

Although Schippers´ objection can be fixed with a little tinkering of the bill, the biggest problem for regulated online poker in Pennsylvania is a lack of support in the Senate. According to Senator Kim Ward – the chair of the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee – the Democrats are the problem. In response to a tweet asking her to support the bill, Senator Ward tweeted:

Is Another Session Day a Cause for Optimism? Pappas Seems to Think So

Proponents of regulated online poker in Pennsylvania will point to the fact that the temporary fix to the “local share tax” issue still has to be approved by the House of Representatives – who, in theory, could pass the amendment back to the Senate with HB 2150 attached to it. Certainly the PPA´s John Pappas believes that another session day is a cause for optimism:

However, while an extra session day does keep alive hopes for regulated online poker in Pennsylvania in 2016, one has to wonder what magic Pappas is going to weave overnight to convince Senators – who were opposed to the bill yesterday – to support it. Senators on both sides of the political fence have expressed concerns about the proposed tax rate and the lack player protection.

The current proposed tax rate of 16% is considered by many Senators as too low and, contrary to what Pappas often claims in press releases and at committee hearings, there is nothing in the current proposals that would give players recourse if a regulated online poker site was to disappear overnight with players´ bankrolls. Ironically, funds due to the state in tax revenues must be held in a trust, but no such protection is provided for players.

Recent History Does Not Bode Well Either

There are also questions surrounding the geolocation technology supposed to ensure that players are physically present in the state when gambling online. Last weekend´s cancellation of Party Poker´s Garden State Super Series Main Event and seven other events due to “technical failings” could not have come at a worse time for regulation lobbyists. The fiasco surrounding the reimbursement of players by Party Poker is also a serious cause for concern as demonstrated on this 2+2 forum thread.

Although the proposals in HB 2150 were supposed to fill a $100 million vacuum in the state budget, the likely outcome is that nothing will happen today or in any other lame duck session days that are added to the 2016 legislative calendar. The funds to balance the budget do not have to be found yet, and there are many more potential sources of tax revenues that legislators may look at in preference to an expansion of gambling.

The prospects for the regulation of online poker in Pennsylvania in 2016 are not dead, but they are not looking all that healthy either.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett