Pennsylvania House to Vote on Online Gambling Bill Thursday



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It looks like Thursday will be the day that we find out if a future for online poker is still alive in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Today was supposed to see a vote on HB 649, a bill which would legalize and regulate online gambling, but the vote was pushed to tomorrow, as lawmakers in the House of Representatives debated amendments on Wednesday.

HB 649 passed through the House Gaming Oversight Committee in mid-November by an 18 to 8 vote, setting it up for the current vote on the main floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The bill would allow the twelve casinos in the state to offer intrastate online gambling (only to customers present within Pennsylvania’s borders) and would also give overseas operators an “in” by permitting them to partner with the casinos. Most of the casinos who decide to get into online gambling (should the bill eventually become law) would likely partners with existing software providers such as 888, PokerStars, or partypoker in order to avoid having to re-invent the wheel.

Ironically, one of the Pennsylvania casinos is Sands Bethlehem, owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corp., whose CEO is none other than Sheldon Adelson. Adelson, as you probably well know by now, has vowed to do “whatever it takes” to eliminate online gambling in the United States and is the force behind the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), which would do just that. It would be interesting (read: comical) if the other eleven casinos got involved in online poker while Sands Bethlehem stayed on the sidelines.

HB 649 was introduced by Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. John Payne back in February. It sets a licensing fee of $5 million for each operator and a 14 percent tax on gross gaming revenue.

Tomorrow’s expected vote comes amidst infighting as state legislators try to figure out how to come up with a budget that is months overdue. On Monday, the Senate voted for a $30.8 billion spending bill crafted by Senate Republicans, who actually worked with Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s administration to try to get it done. House Republicans, on the other hand, have come up with their own spending plan, which is $500 million smaller than the Senate’s. PennLive.com reports that Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee said that much of the difference comes from cuts in education spending.

House Republicans are counting on HB 649 providing $120 million in revenue from online gambling.

Should the online gambling bill get enough votes from the full House of Representatives, it would then have to go through the Senate. If it gets through the Senate, it would then be on to Governor Wolf’s desk to hopefully be signed into law.

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