Online Gambling Bill Passes Through PA House Committee

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Online poker took a huge step forward in Pennsylvania Tuesday as H.B. 649 passed through the state’s House Gaming Oversight Committee. The bill, introduced by Committee Chairman Rep. John Payne in February, would legalize and regulate online gambling in the Commonwealth.

In a press release, the Poker Players Alliance said that it “applauds” the Committee for the vote.

“With the passage of H.B. 649, the House Gaming Oversight Committee has proven their commitment to providing Pennsylvania residents with a safe and regulated place to play online poker within their own borders,” said John Pappas, executive director of the PPA, in the statement. “The PPA thanks Chairman John Payne and the Committee for their leadership. Now this bill needs to become law. The safety of consumers and the fiscal health of Pennsylvania will be vastly improved when Internet gaming is appropriately licensed, regulated and taxed. It is our hope that the legislation will be enacted on its own or as part of the state’s 2016 budget by the end of this year.”

As Pappas said, there are actually two routes by which H.B. 649 can become law. The first is the traditional path a bill takes through the Pennsylvania legislature. As it has passed through the House committee, the next step is for the bill to be voted upon by the entire House of Representatives. If it garners enough votes in the House, it would then move to the Senate floor. Should it get past the Senate, it would advance to the desk of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, who could opt to officially sign it into law.

An alternative route would be for H.B. 649 to be included in the state’s upcoming budget. Governor Wolf is staring at a $2 billion budget shortfall and has proposed raising taxes to help steady the ship. Because he is a Democrat and the General Assembly is controlled by Republicans, though, he is having trouble getting that done. The budget is four months overdue, so something needs to happen. Amongst the options for raising revenue is to expand gambling, which, of course, is where H.B. 649 could come into play. Analysts project that legalized online gambling would bring in $184 million for the state in its first year ($77 million from online poker), so that would certainly be a good start in knocking down that shortfall.

“New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware are already successfully providing their residents with a safe and regulated online gaming market accountable to the players, regulators and law enforcement, and now it’s Pennsylvania’s turn to give their citizens this right,” added Pappas in the press release. “In addition, a regulated market will introduce new revenue for the state and create local jobs. H.B. 649 is a win-win opportunity that Pennsylvania’s lawmakers cannot afford to miss.”

Brick and mortar casinos in Pennsylvania will be eligible to apply for an online gambling license under the potential law; online operators would be permitted to partner with the casinos. Licenses would come with a $5 million fee and operators would be levied a 14 percent tax on gross gaming revenue.

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