Pennsylvania Lawmakers Introduce Two Online Gambling Bills


Pennsylvaniais widely seen as one of the US states likely to legalize online gambling in the next few years. While the Commonwealth has taken a slow and steady approach to regulation, Keystone State lawmakers recently introduced two bills that could bring Pennsylvania closer to that goal. Visit PocketFives’ Pennsylvania poker community for the latest news and discussion from Pennsylvania players.

The first bill, numbered HB 649, was introduced by Representative John Payne (R-106) late last month and seeks to legalize not just internet poker, but also casino table games. In a statement on his website, Payne voiced the need to protect the state’s citizens from unregulated and legally murky offshore i-gaming sites.

“Right now, millions of Americans, including Pennsylvanians, participate in illegal online gaming where no regulation currently exists,” he said. “By enacting effective state policy, we can help curb the illegal market while ensuring strong safeguards are in place to protect consumers.”

Only current licensed gaming entities would be eligible to receive a license under HB 649. Online gambling operators would pay a $5 million licensing fee and fork over 14% of “daily gross interactive gaming revenue” per week.

According to Payne, this new revenue stream would go a long way toward relieving some of the state’s financial burdens. “We are currently facing a projected $2 billion budget shortfall,” he continued. “I think it’s important we consider all responsible options to boost revenue before we consider asking our taxpayers for more money to fill that deficit.”

The bill does not contain “bad actor” language that would preclude PokerStars, or any other site that continued to operate in the US after the UIGEA was passed, from becoming licensed. HB 649 would also allow Pennsylvania to enter into interstate compacts.

Just a week Payne’s bill was filed, Representative Nick Miccarelli reintroduced his own i-gaming legislation, HB 645, which would regulate online poker only.

Miccarelli floated a similar bill last year and made a statement in February announcing the return of the legislation under a new name. Like Payne, the representative cited the potential for i-poker to generate substantial tax dollars for the state. “A recent study from the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee found that internet gaming is a large new source of revenue that the Commonwealth could explore,” he said.

Unlike Payne’s bill, HB 645 includes bad actor language that would seemingly take PokerStars out of the game. “Persons who provided goods or services related to internet gaming involving citizens of this Commonwealth that ceased operations as a result of the enactment of [the UIGEA] should be regarded differently from those that continue to flout federal and state law,” the bill reads.

“Granting licenses or allowing the use of assets of persons who ignored federal and state law would reward unlawful gaming activity… and create unfair competition with licensees that respected federal and state law,” it continued.

Similar to HB 649, Miccarelli’s legislation would allow current gaming operators to receive a license for a fee of $5 million and would call for a tax rate of 14% per week. Miccarelli’s original bill did not include the option for Pennsylvania to create interstate compacts, but now includes language allowing for such agreements.

Research submitted by Morgan Stanley in September of last year stated that the Keystone State had made “significant progress” toward legalizing online gambling. “It does seem apparent that state lawmakers are still in the early stages of understanding the ins and outs of a regulated online gambling market,” it cautioned, however. The financial firm concluded that online poker could be offered in the Commonwealth by 2017, with casino table games arriving later.

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    • Just sent to my state rep and senator:

      Dear Sirs,

      I see that two bills supporting regulated online gaming have recently been introduced. I sincerely hope you are supporting one or the other of these efforts. While debate about the differences between the two bills is interesting, the fact that I can legally gamble in PA only if I’m willing to drive to a casino, has always seemed like an odd distinction to me. What is the message? That I have to waste resources in order to gamble legally? In Lancaster we probably have 5 casinos with an hour or so drive, so what’s the point of restricting access? I am all for regulation, and stringent requirements for anyone to obtain a license, but as the consumer what difference does it make where I play?

      I have to say I slightly favor Representative Miccarelli’s bill as it provides for interstate liquidity. I am a poker player, and the bigger the pool we have to draw from the more successful poker will be. I honestly believe that it is not a one-to-one ration when you increase player pools. At nearly 13 million people, we have a similar population to draw from as three states that currently allow some form of igaming combined. However if we partnered with these states a poker population of nearly 26 million would more than double the amount of people who play in PA alone because the games would make sense, especially tournament play which utilizes small buy-ins and big fields of casual players to generate large prize pools.

      Back in the heyday of unregulated online poker part of the attraction to the casual player was plunking down $22 for a chance to win $50,000 using at least SOME skill. With only small populations to draw from Nevada and Delaware haven’t created that atmosphere yet, and New Jersey is working on it with some success, but it takes the big guarantees to really get people excited, and more players (and revenue) follow that excitement. Combining the four states suddenly you would have a player pool that, if it were a country, would be among the 50 largest in the world.

      Anyway, as you can probably tell this issue is rather important to me, I hope that it is important to you as well.

    • This is great news. I’m moving to Pa on the edge of Delware so guessing ill have a choice which state to play in but delware sharing pools with Nevada and now PA legalising means i may not have to quit online poker 🙂

    • This is great news. I’m moving to Pa on the edge of Delware so guessing ill have a choice which state to play in but delware sharing pools with Nevada and now PA legalising means i may not have to quit online poker 🙂

      Move to nj. Our sites are great. should still be close enough to where you have to work

    • Snaggs, I’d be more specific and ask them to support the Payne bill. The Miccarelli bill contains bad actor language, a crony protectionist tool designed specifically to keep PokerStars out. I dunno about you, but I want them IN! And frankly, I want any company in that can push the market forward from a product, service and trustworthiness perspective.

    • Pulling for my neighboring State. Another stepping stone to NY doing it. Thank Silver is no longer the leader, MMA actually has a chance to pass. Next I’m hoping for i gaming.