On June 28 lawmakers in Pennsylvania put the state in prime position to legalize online poker, passing House Bill 2150 by a 114-85 margin.
The bill would create a legalized and regulated online gambling industry within Pennsylvania, including poker and casino games, along with daily fantasy sports (DFS). In addition, slot machines would be permitted in airports and off-track betting establishments.
HB-2150 was passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and now it awaits a full vote by the state Senate. If approved by that legislative body, HB-2150 would then move to the desk of Governor Tom Wolf, whose signature would enact the sweeping reforms to Pennsylvania’s already thriving gambling industry.
Efforts to bring legalized, regulated online gambling to Pennsylvania have been in the works since 2013, when State Representative John Payne authored and sponsored HB-649.
By 2015, with neighboring New Jersey beginning to benefit from the added revenue generated by its own statewide network of legal online casinos, Rep. Payne’s bill began to garner increased support among his fellow legislators.
In May of this year HB-649 reached the House floor for discussions, but the contentious issue of so-called Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs) eventually scuttled the debate and led to Rep. Payne’s proposal being voted down.
Although a majority of his fellow representatives generally supported Rep. Payne’s version of online gambling regulation, the inclusion of VGTs proved to be a bridge too far.
Lawmakers pledged to hold June hearings on the subject, but as the month wound down, industry experts and political watchdogs alike became pessimistic as to the chances of that actually happening.
Eventually, a compromise of sorts was brokered behind the scenes. An amendment was tacked on to HB-2150 – which to that point had been focused on regulating the DFS industry – in order to allow for the inclusion of online poker and casino gambling, with the VGT issue removed entirely from the equation.
This amendment was quickly approved by the full House in a 115-80 vote, and the new version of HB-2150 was then passed through the House Appropriations Committee.
In the wake of the most recent House vote, which moved HB-2150 to the Senate where immediate passage is expected, industry advocacy groups like the Poker Player’s Alliance (PPA) lauded Pennsylvania’s progressive approach. John Pappas, who serves as executive director for the PPA, was particularly passionate in his response:
“It is about time – this legislation is long overdue! Pennsylvanians deserve robust consumer protections and today the Pennsylvania House delivered. Additionally, this legislation will create jobs and help the Commonwealth close its budget gap. This commonsense legislation is a win-win for Pennsylvania. The online poker community urges the Senate and Governor Wolf to act swiftly to approve this measure.”
The ‘budget gap’ Pappas refers to concerns Pennsylvania’s pending $31.5 billion budget proposal, which is currently hampered by a lack of commensurate tax revenue.
In a fiscal note attached to HB-2150, the state estimates that the cumulative effect of these online gaming expansions will be an increase of $266.5 million in 2016-17, largely generated from licensing fees and subsequent taxes.