Online Gambling Bill Passes through Pennsylvania’s Gaming Oversight Committee

The state of Pennsylvania took a huge step towards legalizing online gambling today after the House Gaming Oversight Committee (HGOC) passed John Payne’s bill, HB 649, by a margin of 18-8.

Payne’s bill would allow online gambling operators to partner with the state’s land-based casinos to offer iGaming for those 21 years or older inside the state. The legislation does not contain a bad actor clause which could block the entrance of PokerStars into the market. Approved sites would pay a $5 million licensing fee for the pleasure of offering their business inside the Commonwealth.

While HB 649 successfully passed through the HGOC, some legislators attempted to sink the bill with “toxic amendments,” which would have increased the number of video gambling terminals in the state.

The Next Steps

To become law, the bill will need to pass a vote on the House and Senate floor before being signed by Gov. Wolf.

But there is an easier and more promising path available. The Republican controlled legislature has been locked in a battle with Democratic Gov. Wolf on creating a budget package which will reduce the state’s substantial deficit.

HB 649 could be added to the package, which is several months overdue, in what some say would be a compromise between Republicans and Democrats. In the past, Wolf has been lukewarm about online gambling, but not completely against it.

Poker Players Alliance Urges Action

“Regardless of H.B. 649’s pathway to becoming law in Pennsylvania, we want to see Internet poker legislaton enacted this year,” said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance. “Therefore, 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 actvists to help spread the word through media outlets, blogs and social media forums.”

Pappas directed supporters to the PPA’s advocacy webpage for the bill which allows residents to easily contact state legislators by email, phone and social media.

“It is absolutely crucial that Pennsylvania state representatves, senators and Governor Tom Wolf are hearing from their consttuents about the consumer benefts of licensing and regulatng Internet poker in the state,” Pappas continued.

Pennsylvania is considered to be one of the US states most likely to legalize iGaming in the near future. The Commonwealth has held several hearings on the matter and has adopted a slow and steady approach to the issue.

iGaming Opponents Ramp Up Efforts

As the state gets closer to approving iGaming legislation, opponents of the industry have ramped up efforts to stymie the process. In a recent ad, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gaming, an organization created by the casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, bombastically warns that online gambling could somehow turn children into gambling addicts.

The passage of an online gambling bill could go a long way to shore up the state budget in the short term via hefty licensing fees that operators would have to pay up front. Casino operator Harrah’s believes that the industry could bring upwards of $40 million a year to the Commonwealth.