Pennsylvania took a positive step towards legalizing online gambling on Wednesday after the House Gaming Oversight Committee passed iGaming bill HB 649 by a vote of 18-8.
The bill was introduced by Committee Chairman John Payne and is one of several internet gaming initiatives floated this year. HB 649 would allow the state’s 12 brick-and-mortar casinos to partner with an online gaming operator to offer online poker and online casino games to those inside Pennsylvania.
Payne has hyped his iGaming bill as a potentially new source of revenue to help shore up the state’s budget without raising taxes on residents. Indeed, the $5 million upfront licensing fee called for in HB 649 could provide the Commonwealth with a quick cash injection.
To be adopted as a standalone measure, the bill would need to pass a vote in both the House and Senate before arriving on the desk of Governor Tom Wolf. But the impasse between the Republican-controlled legislature and the Democratic governor in regards to the state budget package has presented a new opportunity for iGaming legislation to become law.
HB 649 is increasingly being seen as a way to appease politicians on both sides of the aisle while bringing in much-needed revenue. The bill could be combined with other initiatives and passed as part of the 2016 budget package. Those changes could include regulating games of skill, legalizing daily fantasy sports, and giving betting parlors the option to add more slot machines for an extra fee.
According to Payne’s estimates, internet gaming could bring in $120 million in revenue in its first year alone. The representative has stated his concern that by not keeping up with neighboring states, Pennsylvania’s land-based gambling operations could suffer the same closures that were seen by several casinos in Atlantic City the past two years.
John Pappas (pictured), Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance, urged poker players to take advantage of the moment and keep the pressure on Pennsylvania’s lawmakers by showing support for iGaming.
“Regardless of HB 649’s pathway to becoming law in Pennsylvania, we want to see internet poker legislation enacted this year,” said Pappas in a press release. “Therefore, we are calling on all Pennsylvania poker players to tell the state’s policymakers why passing this bill is so important to Pennsylvanians and urging all poker reporters and activists to help spread the word through media outlets, blogs, and social media forums.”
Casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson (pictured), who heads the parent company of Pennsylvania’s Sands Bethlehem Casino, is well aware of the new developments and has recently released new attack ads via his organization, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. In its most recent TV spot, a narrator asks whether Pennsylvania’s children are safe and wonders why Representative Payne is working so hard to “legalize predatory online gambling.”
This is exactly why Pappas recommends that Pennsylvania’s poker fans don’t drop the ball with victory tantalizingly close at hand. “It is absolutely crucial that Pennsylvania state representatives, senators, and Governor Tom Wolf are hearing from their constituents about the consumer benefits of licensing and regulating internet poker in the state,” he said.
To make that task a bit easier, the PPA announced the launch of an “advocacy webpage” which instructs citizens how they can contact state representatives through social media, email, and phone. Players can find all the info they need here.