Pennsylvania Online Gambling Bill Passes House Committee

November 18th, 2015 | by Brian Corlisse
Pennsylvania online gambling Tom Wolf

Pennsylvania online gambling might soon find its way to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk, State Rep. John Payne’s iGambling legislation receiving approval from the House Gaming Oversight Committee on Wednesday. (Image: Marc Levy/AP)

Pennsylvania online gambling appears destined to reach its way to the state’s nearly 13 million residents.

After months of delays and setbacks, Pennsylvania’s House Gaming Oversight Committee moved legislation forward on Wednesday to authorize the market.

State Rep. John Payne (R-District 106) not only chairs the Gaming Oversight Committee but also authored HB 649, the bill that received the committee’s backing today in Harrisburg.

In an 18-8 vote, representatives chose to advance the proposition to its chamber’s floor for continued discussion and a likely forthcoming vote.

Payne told reporters after the meeting, “We’re not authorizing it, we’re going to regulate it. Internet gaming is already occurring.”

Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas cheered the Keystone State by writing in a presser, “The safety of consumers and the fiscal health of Pennsylvania will be vastly improved when Internet gaming is appropriately licensed, regulated and taxed.”

Sorry Sheldon

Payne’s bill moving to the House floor is a devastating blow to adversaries of Internet gambling.

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands casino empire, has spent an untold amount of millions to combat the emerging industry.

Pennsylvania televisions have been bombarded with commercials from Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling at a rate that can only be rivaled by DraftKings and FanDuel.

His big bet didn’t pay off.

HB 649 would authorize online gaming operators to provide casino games including poker to Pennsylvanians in exchange for a $5 million licensing fee. Daily gross revenues would be taxed at 14 percent and be paid to the state on a weekly basis.

Payne’s bill also hints at interstate compacts, which could significantly boost Internet poker liquidity in struggling markets like Delaware and Nevada as Pennsylvania is the country’s sixth most populated state.

“Authorized interactive gaming, once fully developed, will allow persons in this Commonwealth to participate in interactive gaming, not only with other persons in this Commonwealth, but with persons in other cooperating United States jurisdictions where interactive gaming has been authorized,” Payne’s proposal states.

Lone Wolf

First-term Governor Tom Wolf (D) wants to raise the sales tax in order to increase spending, primarily on education. The Republican-controlled legislature and the governor have been at odds over the budget, the state now more than 140 days into an impasse.

One unintended consequence of the stalemate is that it’s given fuel to Payne’s fire, lawmakers across the state scouring for ways to raise additional revenues without placing the burden on the general public.

Online gambling has surfaced as the leading viable solution.

It’s a rather contentious period in Harrisburg. Wolf has remained firm on his welcoming of Syrian refugees into the state while 30 other overwhelming Republican governors have called for the resettlement to end.

Should HB 649 pass the House and Senate to land on Wolf’s desk, his signature could be a welcomed gesture of compromise to Republicans.

After all, many in the GOP leadership already believe the governor is gambling with the safety of the Commonwealth by continuing to welcome the refugees.

“Governor Wolf’s number one priority should be protecting the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” State Sen. Scott Wagner (R-District 28) said.


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