Pennsylvania Online Poker Legislation Gets Another Shot, But Gets Shot Down

May 26th, 2016 | by Jason Reynolds

Pennsylvania online poker is once again off the table, after lawmakers in the State House voted against two separate bills that sought to expand gambling and legalize Internet wagering this week.

Pennsylvania online poker Internet gambling

Pennsylvania online poker was voted down by the state’s House of Representatives this week, as once again the chamber opted to avoid legalizing gambling on the Internet. (Image: Bradley Bower/AP)

On May 24, an amendment to HB 1925 that would have issued licenses to online gambling and Internet poker operators was rejected by a vote of 122-66.

State Rep. John Payne (R-District 106), who also chairs the state’s House Gaming Oversight Committee, has been leading the push to regulate poker online and decriminalize Internet gambling. His legislation, HB 649, served as the add-on to HB 1925, the latter being a bill that dictates how the state spends tax revenue stemming from casinos.

Payne and State Rep. George Dunbar (R-District 56) argued in front of the chamber why passing online gambling legislation is vital to protecting Pennsylvanians. The two explained to their constituents that while the state doesn’t currently allow for iGambling, the fact is many residents are still betting online through offshore and unregulated networks.

“Right now, thousands of Pennsylvanians who are playing these games online are at risk for fraud and abuse,” Payne said when he first introduced Internet gaming legislation. “This strong regulatory framework is necessary to protect our children and our citizens and to help shut down black market sites.”

Election Season

Payne’s bill called for qualified interactive gaming companies to be charged a one-time $8 million licensing fee. Sites would pay 14 percent tax on their daily gross revenues to the state, with an additional $2 million or .002 multiplied by their total gross gaming revenue, whichever is greater, going to the state’s Compulsive and Problem Gambling Treatment Fund.

Historically a red state in the capital, as apart from Philadelphia and Pittsburg the more rural areas of the Keystone State lean to the right, the subject of online gaming is only being considered due to Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s demands to increase spending.

Wolf’s budget proposal, which by independent calculations would produce a $1.8 billion deficit in Harrisburg, is seeking underwriting through new means of revenue.

But approving Internet gambling might still be a stretch for the Republican-controlled General Assembly, especially during an election year.

“If you are going to vote ‘no,’ please don’t use the crutch that it’s because you want to protect people,” Payne pleaded during the floor debate, as reported by CardPlayer. “The protections are in this amendment.”

100th Time’s the Charm?

Though Payne’s latest online poker efforts were once again defeated, his resolve to legalize betting on the Internet remains.

The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) attended the legislative session in Harrisburg and its Executive Director John Pappas tweeted after the close, “Redo in PA with iGaming still open for consideration at a later date.”

Pennsylvania has been seen as the most likely candidate to join Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware in allowing online casinos, but voices of opposition from powerful land-based casinos seem to be growing louder.

“We would have never agreed to invest $659 million in Pennsylvania if we thought this was coming,” Mohegan Sun CEO Michael Bean told Allentown newspaper The Morning Call.

Payne’s push to move all-in continues, but in what capacity, remains to be seen.

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