Pennsylvania Still a Must-Watch State for Online Poker Regulation


Pennsylvania remains a must-watch state for online poker legislation in 2016

For online poker supporters, June could best be summed up with the first half of a famous Shakespeare line, as the month was full of sound fury in multiple state legislators. Unfortunately, July completed the quote, as thus far, all of the hullabaloo that occurred in June has signified nothing.

Even though no less than four states have given serious consideration to legalizing online gambling this year – New York, Michigan, California, and Pennsylvania – to date, not a single online gaming bill has passed in 2016.

But, only one of those states, New York, is officially off the table this year, and hope remains in the other three, particularly in Pennsylvania.

Another positive development occurred in July too, as a new online gaming candidate emerged in the form of Massachusetts. As they wrapped up their legislative session Massachusetts lawmakers passed a Daily Fantasy Sports bill, and came very close to approving online lottery sales. Hopefully this progress will set the table for 2017 in the Bay State.

Here’s where online gaming efforts stand across the country as heading into August.

Pennsylvania Still on Hold

The waiting game is officially on in Pennsylvania, and it could be quite some time before the fate of online gaming is decided in the Keystone State. Nothing is expected to happen on the online gambling front until the fall, and it could easily stretch into the winter months and could stretch into early 2017 if history is any indication.

In 2009 the same scenario we are currently seeing with the online gaming bill unfolded with table games. The revenue table games were expected to produce was added to the budget in July 2009, but the table game bill wasn’t passed until January of 2010. Basically, there is precedent for what is happening.

The online gambling bill may be on pause, but you can be certain the behind the scenes maneuverings are alive and well, evidenced by the recent passage of a bill that increased the tax on table games in Pennsylvania by 2% over the next three years.

So How Close is Online Gambling to Passing in Pennsylvania?

According to legislative sources, online gambling has a good shot of passing if, and this is an important if, the key components of the bill remain unchanged. The fear is DFS, which apparently has broader support in Pennsylvania, could be decoupled from online gambling. If this happens, online gambling’s chances go way down.

New York Folds on the River

I had the chance to talk Assemblyman Gary Pretlow at the recently concluded National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) conference that was held in Newton, Massachusetts, and asked him point blank if he was going to push for legalizing online poker in 2017.

His answer caught me a bit off guard.

According to Pretlow, his primary concern is the fear that multiple players will communicate their hands to one another, what we call in poker circles, collude. Pretlow said, “prove to me you can’t cheat.”

This is a detour from earlier statements the Assemblyman made on this same topic.

Previously Pretlow said the reason DFS passed, while online poker got hung up in the Assembly, was because he couldn’t consider poker a game of skill because you can change the size of the bet in poker, whereas DFS has a fixed entry fee … sort of like a poker tournament.

Considering how simple it should be to quell Pretlow’s new concern, it looks like New York will in fact be in play in 2017, and it would certainly help if poker players started contacting Pretlow and other key lawmakers in order to apply the same grass roots pressure that helped propel DFS across the finish line in New York.

Michigan Still Playing Hold Music

As was the case last month, we can shift our focus off of Michigan until November, as the legislature is not expected to consider online gambling legalization until after the elections.

A New Dawn in Indiana

Indiana has been on my radar for several years now, and thanks to presidential politics, it will probably be on everyone’s radar in 2017.

With budget shortfalls and declining gaming revenue, the Indiana legislature has been exploring all kinds of options to raise more revenue through gaming. but because of their very anti-online gambling Governor, Mike Pence, the legislature hasn’t tackled online gambling, since Pence created what is basically an unbreachable firewall. To be fair to Pence, a few gaming bills have been passed on his watch, but online gambling never stood a chance.

That’s all changed now that Pence has agreed to be Donald Trump‘s running mate, a decision that prohibits him from running for office in Indiana, so his name has been withdrawn from consideration.

California Legislature Preparing for a Busy August

The California legislature is back in session, but with less than a month to wrap things up, and the two sides still miles apart on the suitability issue, online poker is likely not going to happen this year.

When the legislature left for summer recess a month ago the Assembly was reportedly 12 votes shy of the 2/3 majority needed to pass Adam Gray‘s online poker bill. It’s hard to imagine the situation has changed enough that the bill could pass the Assembly, and it might not even be brought to the floor for debate.

DFS Passes, but Massachusetts iLottery Efforts Fall Short

In last month’s legislative recap I included a throwaway line about a Massachusetts Senate Committee approving a bill (that later became H 4569) that would allow the Massachusetts State Lottery to sell tickets online.

Remarkably, the Massachusetts legislature nearly got online lottery sales bill into the state budget. Since being approved by the Senate committee in June, the bill managed to pass the full Massachusetts Senate and a House committee before it was stripped out of the economic development package passed in the House on the last day of the session, the aforementioned H 4569.

H 4569 did legalize daily fantasy sports.

The bill is something of a DFS placeholder (it sunsets in 2018) that sets up a commission to study DFS and make regulatory recommendations for the bill that is expected to replace it. Interestingly, the bill also sets up a commission to study online lottery.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean Massachusetts is likely to take the final step on online lottery next year, as the state has an uncanny knack of considering online gaming bills one year, and then discard them in the next.