PA Online Gambling a Long Shot for 2015, but 2016 Shows Promise

While members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly had planned to take a last-minute vote on online gambling package HB 649 before year’s end, it’s now all but certain that iGaming will not be legalized there in 2015.

But that doesn’t mean that the bill is dead. Assemblymember John Payne, who introduced the legislation, recently told OnlinePokerReport that the bill is very much alive. He said that while initially HB 649 was meant to fund the state’s pension plan, lawmakers later suggested that it could be included in the long overdue state budget package.

Lawmakers at an Impasse

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a budget proposal which called for $3.8 billion in spending, including a large increase for the Commonwealth’s education system. While Democratic Governor Tom Wolf backed the legislation, House Republicans rejected the bill, calling the package too expensive.

The House GOP responded with its own proposal, which would approve $30.2 billion in spending. The package would be funded in part by the legalization of online gambling, along with an increase in cigarette tax and expansion of videogame terminals (VGTs).

As HB 649 was never meant to be included in the overall state budget, some assemblymembers complained that passing the bill as part of the spending package would be like robbing Peter to pay Paul. If it were to pass as is, next year the General Assembly would still face the problem of funding the state pension budget.

HB 649 Back on Track

Payne says that his bill is now back on track for its original purpose. He believes that the legislation will be amended many times before being put to a vote in the spring of 2016. In fact, already 100 amendments have been made to the bill, some of which, like its expansion of VGTs, could sink the legislation in the Senate, however.

A passable bill would likely include, at the least, iGaming, along with the right to offer VGTs at airports. That measure would be preferable to casino operators, who oppose the expansion of VGTs in restaurants and bars for fear of increased competition.

To bolster his case that HB 649 is still alive, Payne reminded that 11 out Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos support online gambling. Only one operator, the Sheldon Adelson-owned Sands Bethlehem, is opposed to the industry. The casino magnate has put forth a great effort into banning iGaming in the US by backing anti-online gaming bill the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, legislation which would shut down the industry countrywide.

Assemblymembers also plan to look at the burgeoning daily fantasy sports industry (DFS), which has come under fire as of late. After completing a scheduled three month investigation of DFS, Payne hopes that he can include daily fantasy legislation in his package as well.