Pennsylvania State Reps Announce Plan to Introduce Online Poker Bill

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Two Pennsylvania House members filed a House Co-Sponsorship Memorandum on Wednesday, announcing upcoming legislation that they plan to introduce that would, among other gaming efforts, legalize and regulate online gambling in the state. State Senator Jay Costa did the same thing about a month ago; though his was worded differently, we would expect the House and Senate gaming bills to be quite similar. Like Costa, Representative George Dunbar and Representative Rosita C. Youngblood did not give an exact date as to when to expect the bill to be introduced, only saying that it would be “in the near future.”

The House of Representatives did pass an gambling bill last year, described by Dunbar and Youngblood as “legislation that will ensure the integrity and sustainability of our regulated gaming industry and increase needed revenues, while focusing on consumer protections to rein in black market, off-shore gaming operators that prey on problem and compulsive gamblers, and could care less about protecting against underage gambling.”

The Senate never even voted on the bill.

The memorandum lists nearly a dozen key features:

•    Fix the local share assessment issue by requiring all casinos, except Category 3 casinos, to pay a $10 million fee to host municipalities;
•    Regulate and tax iGaming;
•    Impose consumer protections on and tax online fantasy sports operators;
•    Allow gaming tablets in international airports;
•    Remove the Category 3 casino amenity requirement;
•    Streamline non-gaming vendor registration requirements;
•    Permit gaming manufactures to utilize private laboratories to test gaming devices;
•    Authorize the PGCB to create new regulations to allow for new types of slot machines;
•    Increase license, permit and registration renewal periods;
•    Allow multi-state linkage of slot machines to increase jackpots; and,
•    Require uniform advertisement of the problem gaming assistance number.

As you can see, the second bullet point shows that the omnibus gambling bill would regulate and tax online gambling; poker is included in that. Last year’s bill allowed for the state’s dozen casinos to apply for licenses, which would cost $8 million each. Gaming operators and software providers that want to partner with the casinos would also have been permitted to apply for licenses.

The state taxes would have been 14 percent on internet gaming revenues, while localities would have gotten another two percent.

The installation of gaming tablets in airports was part of a larger dispute surrounding last year’s bill. One version of the bill would have permitted a significant expansion of video gaming terminals (VGTs) throughout Pennsylvania, into places like taverns. The casinos were dead-set against this, as they feared they would lose business because of it. The final bill removed that language but still permitted for VGT expansion into airports.

While this House memo only provided high-level points and did not give further details as to any regulations, Senator Costa did provide some insight in his memorandum. The online gambling licensing fee for the state’s casinos would be $10 million in his bill, while the fee for technology partners would be $5 million. Operators would be taxed 25 percent of their internet gaming revenue, much higher than was indicated in last year’s House bill. That money would be earmarked for property tax relief and economic development projects.

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