Last week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted in favor of an amendment to HB 2150 that would expand gambling in the state, including the legalization and regulation of online poker. That was fantastic, but it was still just a vote on an amendment. The bill was then sent to the Appropriations Committee for financial approval and then finally, on June 28th, the House gave a positive vote to HB 2150 as a whole, 114 to 85. HB 2150 has now been sent to the Senate’s Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee.
There is nothing particularly unusual about the online gaming portion of the bill; both online poker and casino gambling would be permitted should the bill become law. As is the case with bills and laws elsewhere, this would be for intrastate online gambling, meaning that only people within Pennsylvania’s borders would be able to play on the Pennsylvania sites. And those people would have to be at least 21-years old.
The state’s dozen casinos would be allowed to apply for internet gaming licenses, licenses that will cost $8 million. Software providers and established online gaming operators that are not one of the twelve casinos may team up with the casinos to provide online gambling for the state’s residents. Those operators will also have to apply for a license, but their licenses will come at a reduced rate.
Pennsylvania will take 14 percent of the online gaming revenues in taxes, while localities will take another two percent, which will be used for grants.
What finally got HB 2150 over the hump in Pennsylvania was that the approved gambling expansion amendment was purged of language that would have allowed for a significant spread of video gaming terminals (VGTs) throughout the Commonwealth. In one version of the amendment, a handful of VGTs would have been permitted in thousands of small venues, such as taverns, across the state. The state’s casinos were dead-set against this, claiming VGTs would cut into their sales. The casinos had sizeable sway in the matter, so if VGTs would have been left in, HB 2150 would have gone nowhere. In fact, another, similar gambling expansion amendment that included VGTs was voted upon and it lost in a mirror-image vote to the amendment that passed.
There will still be some expansion of video gambling outside of casinos, but very slight. Airports will be allowed to have slot machines as well as gaming tablets in certain areas like traveler lounges. This makes sense in terms of casinos being fine with it, as the people that would partake in this form of gambling will overwhelmingly be people waiting for a flight out of town. They aren’t using the electronic gaming devices instead of visiting a casino.
As mentioned, the bill now moves to the Senate. Prior reports have said that it needs to get passed by the end of the month, as that is when the state budget is due, but it would be pretty surprising if it could get turned around that quickly. We will just have to wait and see.