Pennsylvania Lawmakers Muddy the Waters in Attempt to Legalize Online Gambling

As the conclusion of the 2015-16 legislative session draws near, members of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives assembled on Tuesday, May 24 to hold votes on several pending bills.

But rather than clarify the increasingly clouded debate over reviving the iGaming industry in Pennsylvania, lawmakers managed to muddle through two contentious votes on the subject – all while lacking a firm grasp on exactly what it was they were voting for or against.

Among the items expected to be heard during the House hearing was House Bill 649, legislation authored to legalize and regulate online gambling within Pennsylvania’s borders which has been under consideration for more than a year now.

With little notice, however, the bill’s sponsor, Representative John Payne, shifted his focus to an amendment which had recently been attached to another gaming industry bill. That amendment, officially known as A-7619, was said to “mirror” HB-649 in every conceivable fashion, and Rep. Payne was listed as the author.

Unfortunately for the assembled lawmakers in attendance, Rep. Payne was also listed as the author of A-7622, a similar amendment attached to the same iGaming bill. While both amendments sought to create and regulate a legalized online gambling industry accessible to people located in the state of Pennsylvania, A-7622 was actually authored by Rep. Mark Mustio.

The only meaningful difference between Rep. Mustio’s A-7622 and Rep. Payne’s A-7619 concerns the authorization of video gaming terminals (VGTs) at non-casino locations, such as bars and airports. The A-7622 amendment authored by Rep. Mustio included provisions for VGTs, while Rep. Payne’s A-7619 amendment did not.

Support for VGTs is relatively widespread within Pennsylvania’s House, but members of the Senate overwhelmingly oppose the concept, along with a majority of the state’s existing casino interests.

As the first vote, concerning A-7622, commenced, members of the House were still under the impression that Rep. Payne authored the amendment. When the votes were tallied, A-7622 was dismissed by a 66 to 112 margin.

The voting on A-7619 was closer, at 81 to 107, but once again the House elected to defeat the iGaming amendment.

At this point in the proceedings, Rep. Payne delivered an impassioned defense of A-7619, deconstructing the typical arguments against online gambling while offering direct rebuttals to opponents of the amendment. In doing so, he informed his colleagues that his vote on A-7622 went against that amendment – prompting widespread confusion among the assembled legislators.

Apparently, due to the erroneous attribution of authorship which associated Rep. Payne with both amendments, supporters of VGTs found themselves voting against A-7622, while opponents of the controversial gambling technology voted for A-7619.

With the mistaken authorship finally exposed, motions to reconsider both amendments were easily passed by large majorities, casting the hearing into further confusion as lawmakers curiously voted en masse to revive amendments that they had willingly defeated only hours before.

Due to the unorthodox nature of Tuesday’s votes, the reconsideration of both A-7619 and A-7622 are expected to occur in short order, with many industry watchdogs expecting a second round of voting to take place within a matter of days.