This week Pennsylvania became the first state to make any real progress on passing online gambling legislation in recent years. It has been reported that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Gaming Oversight Committee voted 18 to 8 in favor of HB 649. This bill will authorize licensed casino operators within the state to offer online poker and casino gambling options. Not only will HB 649 allow for online gambling within Pennsylvania, but it will also allow racetrack operators, off-track betting venues, and the six international airports within the state the option of allowing slot machines in their facilities.
The next step for HB 649 is to be voted on by the full House membership. If this vote is passed, then the Senate will also need to review the bill. Finally, it would go before Gov. Tom Wolfe and give him the chance to sign his name on the bill as well. At this point, it would become an official law for the state of Pennsylvania, which would make it the fourth state to allow online gambling within their borders.
Also, due to the current four-month delay in passing a budget for the 2016 fiscal year, HB 649 may be able to bypass a few of the normal routes. If a consensus can be reached, then there is a chance to add HB 649 to the state’s budget as a revenue-generating plan.
The bill will ask for a 14% tax on all online gambling revenue. After an earlier bill that contained a proposed 54% tax, this option seems far more reasonable to licensed gambling operators.
Currently, the majority of the state’s licensed casino operators are either strongly for or neutral towards the online gambling front. The only strongly opposed group is the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, of which Sheldon Adelson is the owner. He is funding the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, which is strongly against John Payne’s bill.
Nonetheless, it looks like the road is paved for the HB 649 to have a great chance at becoming approved. This first approval is the first real step towards state online gambling legislation since New Jersey passed its last bill in 2013.
According to John Pappas, the Poker Players Alliance Executive Director, his group’s membership was a strong influence towards making sure the 2013 vote passed. He will continue his efforts in lobbying Pennsylvania politicians to help HB 649 make it all the way through.
No matter the outcome, the results of this bill will certainly have an impact on the decisions that other states make about online gambling in the coming years. Pennsylvania could be seen as an example to others as more and more states begin to address the legality of online gambling.