For online poker fans in the Keystone State, it’s been one disappointment after another. Years of sponsored legislation have been met with failure at every turn. Earlier this month, Rep. John Payne’s HB 649, scripted to legalize online gambling in Pennsylvania, was rejected. But he has high hopes a probable DFS bill going to vote today will become the saving grace for his online poker measure.
Rep. Payne is the Chairman of the PA House Gaming Oversight Committee, and he’s introduced iGaming bills for the last few years straight. Each time, his bill has received approval from Gaming Oversight, but never makes it past the House floor.
This year’s HB 649 had the highest potential for passage ever, but was convoluted by a series of amendments that promoted gambling expansion in other areas. By the time it reached the House, the bill didn’t just want to regulate online gambling, but sought to install casino slots at airports, while allowing other places like bars, taverns and volunteer fire houses to run their own slot machines.
That didn’t sit too well with land-base casino operators as 11 of the state’s 12 casinos stood up in protest of the expanded slots campaign. And being such influential contributors to the state budget already, legislators were inclined to agree with them, rejecting HB 649 and its multiple amendments.
However, due to relative mass confusion over what the House was actually voting on (hence the 107-81 rejection), it was immediately decided that the bill was worthy of a second look.
Whether the House will vote again on HB 649 again is still uncertain. What’s more likely, according to Rep. Payne, is that his iGaming may could be attached to a DFS bill that’s scheduled to go to vote today, June 22.
High Probability for DFS Bill Passage
The DFS bill, HB 2150, has a sole purpose at this point; to regulate daily fantasy sports and provide consumer protections, while incorporating licensing fees and taxation for the government. As it stands now, HB 2150 is considered very likely to receive the votes necessary to pass through the House and on to the Assembly floor.
Whether that bill could become a catalyst for online poker in the state is yet to be seen. It depends entirely on whether the House chooses to attach the iGaming bill to HB 2150, and if they do, to what degree.
The only parts of the iGaming bill that garnered the support of Pennsylvania’s land-based casinos – or at least a vast majority of them – were the regulation of online gambling (so long as it’s restricted to operation by existing licensed casino operators), and the ability for those same casinos to host slot machines at the state’s 6 international airports.
However, if amendments to integrate non-casino slots at various other locations are included, the measure is all-but destined to fail.
Payne Reinforces iGaming Argument
Rep. Payne told PokerNews yesterday that it’s out of his hands from this point on. Not only is he unable to influence the regulation of online poker now that it’s passed beyond his committee, he won’t be in office come 2017 to introduce yet another piece of iGaming legislation.
“I’m 65 years old with six months to go to retire,” he said. “I’m not worried about getting my name in a bill. I want to see things get done.”
As for the regulation of online poker in PA, he called it “a way to get revenue for Pennsylvania without raising income or sales taxes. We have the intent to put this revenue toward our pension deficit, and that’s a good thing. It would give casinos additional tools to stay competitive with surrounding states, and that’s a good thing.”
As for those who continue to call his iGaming measure an expansion of gaming, he reiterated the same argument he’s maintained all along. “You can [already] go online … and play online poker or blackjack. The sites are there. They’re not illegal because we haven’t said they’re illegal, so they’re legal but not regulated. To say this is an expansion of gaming, it’s not. It’s already there, so for goodness sakes let’s protect minors and compulsive gamblers, and get revenue for the state.”