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Pennsylvania Considers Online Gambling Bill

May 25, 2016
Pennsylvania

A piece of online gambling legislation got a bit of attention in Pennsylvania in 2015, but it was ultimately shelved as a part of the overall budget consideration because the specifics could not be worked out in time. It’s getting reconsideration in 2016 coming up in June, and that’s great news for players in the state who might hope to see regulated online poker and online casino play in the state inside of the next couple of years. While there is a positive view towards the legislation, it still has a bit of distance to go before being passed into law.

Details on the Proposal

In last year’s discussion of the bill, there was a generally good reception towards it from both sides of the legislature. It would have the 12 land-based casinos in the state be issued licenses for online operations, which is a lot like what we’ve seen in New Jersey and Delaware as far as the online licenses being handled through land-based licensees. They’ve had land-based gambling since back in 2006, and they have seen that the revenues from gambling are real in the past decade, which is a part of the reason why it’s received such a good reception in a state that has a bit of a strapped budget.

A Two-Pronged Approach

Instead of relying completely on the budget and revenue issue, which has fallen flat in discussions like these before, the bill known as HB-649 has been approached in two ways. State Representative John Payne is the sponsor of the legislation, and he’s also the Chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee. Payne has obviously emphasized the budget issue, but he’s also put a big focus on the fact that it’s been proven that people from the state are going to play online regardless of what they do. Along this line of thought, he believes it’s their duty to protect their players from a consumer protection standpoint and also to provide services to the small percentage of people who exhibit problem gambling tendencies.

This is a much different approach than what some politicians have tried to take on the subject, often taking the angle of avoiding the topic of compulsive gambling at all since it’s something the opposition will often use to attack the idea of expanding online gambling in any way, shape or form. However, this approach of tackling it head-on is designed to appeal to a wider range of lawmakers, aside from being the right thing to do in the first place.

Re-election Issues

There is a bit of urgency in Pennsylvania right now to get this passed for a big reason: Payne will not be running for re-election. Nick Kotik, another important member of the Gaming Oversight Committee, will also not be running for re-election, and this is huge because of how active he has been in trying to get this legislation pushed through. It’s clear that this summer and fall will be prime time for getting this passed, and if they fail to do so, then it’s unclear what the support will look like in 2017.

A lot is riding on Pennsylvania getting this legislation passed on a national level. It’s been a while since another state regulated the industry, and adding a big state like PA to the list would help to create some momentum, which would increase the chances that we see even more states legalizing online gambling  in the future. If they aren’t able to do so, then that doesn’t mean that hope is lost in the state or on a national level, but it does mean that the already uphill battle will continue to be tough.