When it comes to legal news, the gambling world (or at least the gambling U.S.) has been focused on Pennsylvania this year, as it is expected that online gambling will be legalized in the Commonwealth before the year is up. Sneakily, though, a small move is being made to legalize and regulate sports betting in Pennsylvania, as well. On Tuesday, HB 519, a bill which would do just that, passed the House Gaming Oversight committee by a 13-1 vote.
That’s great news, but at the same time, it is a little bit misleading. Even if the bill goes all the way through the House and the Senate and then is signed by the Governor to become law, casinos in Pennsylvania won’t all of a sudden be opening sports books. This excerpt from page 10 of the bill should give a hint as to why:
The Secretary of the Commonwealth shall, when Federal law is enacted or repealed or a Federal court
decision is filed that affirms the authority of a state to regulate sports wagering, publish a notice in the
Pennsylvania Bulletin certifying the enactment or repeal or the filing of the decision.
Sports betting is currently illegal in most of the country, outlawed by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA). At the time that law was passed, states that had licensed casino gaming for the previous ten years could have opted to be grandfathered into sports betting, but only Nevada, Oregon, Montana, and Delaware chose to do so. Nevada is the only one of the four that has true sports betting – the others have oddball sports lotteries. Thus, Pennsylvania can’t just up and start doling out sports book licenses.
HB 519 would essentially get Pennsylvania ready to launch a sports gambling industry if the federal government or court says that states are allowed. It might not be quite as simple as dropping the green flag and yelling, “GO,” but the competitors would at least be at the starting line.
As such, Pennsylvania will be closely watching New Jersey, which has been battling the federal government, claiming that it has the right to regulate sports betting in the state. The Garden State has gotten its butt kicked on the matter so far, but its case is now headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. As Pennsylvania is in the same Third Circuit Court of Appeals as New Jersey, it would make no sense for Pennsylvania to take up its own legal fight, as it would clearly lose.
Pennsylvania Rep. Robert Matzie, the lead sponsor of the bill, mentioned New Jersey’s efforts in a House Co-Sponsorship Memorandum he wrote in January:
As you may know, the State of New Jersey has tried, several times, to legalize sports betting. Although their initial attempts were denied, their final appeal was scheduled to be heard by the US Supreme Court on January 17. The Court, however, announced that it would wait until a US Solicitor General was confirmed to weigh in on the issue. This is encouraging, given that President Trump has addressed his stance on the sports betting industry – and his support for legalization – on at least two occasions.
Our Commonwealth is uniquely positioned to oversee sports betting in all its forms, and should be ready to act should the federal ban be lifted. As evidenced by yet another record setting year of gaming revenues, our licensed facilities are thriving. Legalizing sports betting will simply enable Pennsylvania to regulate a multimillion dollar industry that already exists.
The next step for HB 519 is to go to the full House, but as we have discussed, even if it keeps going, sports betting in the state is far from a guarantee.