PA Committee Overwhelmingly Passes Symbolic Resolution to Allow Sports Betting

While Pennsylvania considers legalizing online gambling, lawmakers are also working towards repealing a federal law which prohibits most states from offering sports betting.

The Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee voted 23-1 to approve HR619, legislation which calls for the removal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). The resolution will have no effect on state or federal law, however, and is a symbolic measure meant to spur Congress into action on the issue.

The bill still has a ways to go before being adopted by the full state legislature. If passed, HR619 could send a loud message to the federal government and inspire similar moves by other states.

The legislation reads:

“A resolution urging Congress… to lift the federal ban on sports betting and to allow states that authorize, license and regulate casino gaming, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to legalize sports betting through its licensed facilities.”

Where is sports betting legal?

PASPA became law in 1992 and effectively prohibits all states from offering sports betting, with the exceptions of Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Delaware, all of whom were grandfathered into the industry.

Nevada began taking sports bets in 1949, and is the only state allowed to offer single-game sports betting. The three other exempt states had all legalized more restrictive forms of sports betting before PASPA, and were therefore allowed to continue offering those games only.

Risky offshore sites

HR619 also argues that, although sports betting is prohibited, Americans wager vast amounts of money at unregulated offshore sports books each year.

“Even amid strong federal laws banning sports betting in the United States, reports highlight that illegal sports betting is widespread and is considered the number one form of gambling among American residents.”

Lawmakers also spoke about the booming daily fantasy sports (DFS) industry, stating that operators like DraftKings and FanDuel “blur the line with regard to sports betting in general.” They argue that the Commonwealth should properly regulate and classify daily fantasy sites for the protection of its residents.

Rep. George Dunbar has submitted HB 1119a bill which would allow state gambling entities to offer daily fantasy contests to their patrons. He hopes that a legalized DFS industry could be helpful in attracting the coveted “Millennial” demographic to their casinos.

State policymakers are desperately searching for new revenue streams to shore up state coffers, and have seemingly come to an impasse on a seven-month overdue budget package. Rep. John Payne believes the state can reap a large amount of revenue if online gambling were legalized. Payne has introduced iGaming Bill HB 649, which would approve casino and poker games and use the tax revenue to bolster the state pension fund.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is intent on increasing education spending, but has received pushback from assembly GOP members. In December, PA lawmakers held evening sessions in the hopes of coming to a budget agreement before the New Year, but were unsuccessful.