Fourth Pennsylvania Online Poker Bill Coming To State Legislature

May 27th, 2015 | by Brian Corlisse
4th Pennsylvania online poker bill

Sean Wiley has proposed a comprehensive Pennsylvania gaming bill that would include online poker. (Image: ErieTVNews.com)

Pennsylvania already has three bills waiting in the wings that would potentially regulate online poker in the state.

If that wasn’t enough, a fourth bill is apparently coming soon, this time from a state senator who wishes to see a more complete bill that includes Internet gambling as a part of a broader review of the state’s gaming industry.

According to a memorandum released last week by State Senator Sean Wiley (D-Erie County), he is working on a bill that would give a comprehensive overview of Pennsylvania’s gaming regulations.

“In the near future, I will be introducing comprehensive legislation to move the commonwealth’s gaming industry forward,” Wiley wrote. “The gaming industry is constantly changing and we have to be flexible in our approach by allowing the industry to evolve without sacrificing the strict regulatory environment in which it operates.”

Bill Impacts Entire Gaming Industry

Wiley’s bill would cover a number of areas, including licensing rules, game restrictions, and fantasy sports laws.

Notably, it would put a seven-year moratorium on awarding any remaining gaming licenses in the state, allowing regulators to make “informed decisions about market saturation” after watching how the market matures over the next few years.

But the bill would also include rules for regulating online poker.

“My proposal would allow the [Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB)] to authorize online poker only after conducting a study to determine the impact online gaming would have on existing brick and mortar casinos,” wrote Wiley. “This would effectively grandfather Pennsylvania in should there be changes to federal law re: online gaming.” 

Riley is likely referring to efforts to ban online poker, such as the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA).

So far, RAWA has not come close to passing into law; if it ever did, it’s uncertain whether or not any states would be allowed to grandfather in their existing Internet gambling operations.

There has been no formal legislation filed yet by Wiley, and according to Chris Krafcik of GamblingCompliance, the newest bill is only in the “drafting stage.” However, Wiley did include some potential details of the bill in the memo to his Senate colleagues.

“Under my proposal, online poker would be available for play no sooner than Jan 1, 2017 with regulations, licensure, etc. effective no sooner than 7/1/16,” he wrote. 

High Taxes Would Benefit Seniors

Wiley’s bill would impose a 36 percent tax rate on all online poker revenues.

Only existing Pennsylvania casinos would be eligible for online gaming licenses, and they would have to pay a $500,000 fee to receive a license.

Tax revenues generated from the bill would mostly be used to fund a property tax freeze for seniors, though two percent would be put into a separate fund to promote the horse racing industry in the state.

The first $10 million in tax revenues would be used to fund a casino investment grant program for five years.

The bill would also increase funding for compulsive gambling treatment, allow more flexibility in the sale of liquor, and create a fund to encourage upgrades to existing casinos.

While Wiley’s bill may be the most expansive piece of legislation introduced this year in relation to online poker in Pennsylvania, it is just one in a crowded field of proposals to bring Internet gaming to the state.

A bill introduced by Representative Nick Miccarelli (R-Delaware County) that would only allow for online poker, while another piece of legislation from Representative Tina Davis (D-Tina Davis) would open up a wider variety of Internet gambling options, but it would also require in-person registration at casinos.

The bill considered to have the best chance at seeing movement this year is one authored by Representative John Payne (R-Hummelstown).

As chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, Payne is in the best position to move the debate on Internet poker forward, giving his bill a clear leg up.

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