Online poker has taken the first step to becoming legalised in Pennsylvania as the state’s Gaming Oversight Committee has recently passed the HB649 bill. This proposed legislation will effectively regulate iGaming in the state of Pennsylvania and many hope it will provide a model for other US states to follow.
The GO committee chairman John Payne sponsored the bill, which has so far seen a plethora of amendments added to it before the vote was taken, including provisions regarding memberships fees, extending liquor service in casinos and increased slot machine availability.
Many view the HB649 bill as being hugely beneficial in helping reduce the state’s vast financial deficit, as the revenue brought in by online gambling will be substantial. So far the budget discussions in Pennsylvania between the Republican-dominated legislature and new Democratic governor Wolf, have provoked considerable debate as both sides fail to agree on way to deal with the deficit.
What is the HB649 bill?
A version of the HB649 bill was initially proposed in Pennsylvania back in February 2015, but the bill that was passed by the Gaming Oversight committee on the 18th November was not technically the same due to the omnibus of amendments attached to it.
Essentially, the HB649 will fully legalize and regulate online casino and online poker games in Pennsylvania.
Now that the bill has been approved by the Gaming Oversight committee, there are two possible avenues for it to follow in its path to become law. Firstly, it could go the usual route of being endorsed by each of the two houses of legislature before the Governor signs it into law. It has been “laid on the table” of the state House this week. This option is usually a long haul, as every individual amendment added by the Senate must be approved by the House, forcing the bill to potentially yo-yo between the two legislatures for an extended period of time. If Senate chooses not to alter the bill, and approves it, HB 649 could move straight to the governor to sign into law.
Alternatively, there is the possibility that the bill could become part of Pennsylvania’s continuing budget negotiations as a compromise measure to bring in potential revenue for the state, which is currently over $2 billion in deficit. This is a fast-track option as the bill would grouped into the larger budget package, a huge time-saver in its bid to becoming law. In this scenario, it would be voted into law when the full legislature agrees on the state budget for 2016.
If the HB649 bill gets considered on its own, not as part of the state’s overall budget package, the timeframe could be pushed back much further in 2016.
John Pappas, the chair of the PPA (Poker Players Alliance) has spoken out in support of the HB649 bill: “this bill needs to become law. The safety of consumers and the fiscal health of Pennsylvania will be vastly improved when Internet gaming is appropriately licensed, regulated and taxed. It is our hope that the legislation will be enacted on its own or as part of the state’s 2016 budget by the end of this year.”
Pennsylvania currently has 12 existing land-based casinos across the state, whilst one or two are not likely to expand into online gaming when it becomes legalized, each of the 10 remaining casinos will be expected to bring $10 million to the state in 2016.
After 2016, the state will then collect 14% tax of gross gaming revenue from each online gambling operator from 2017 onwards.
With the increased licensing fees Pennsylvania stands to make over $100 million in 2016 from up-front licensing fees alone, a notable boost in revenue for the state.
Online poker in other US states
Online gambling in the USA has traditionally been mired in something of a grey area when it comes to legal status. While there is no overarching federal law prohibiting US players from making online poker accounts and playing online, state law tends to vary.
Nevada became the first US to officially legalise online poker in April 2013 and they were followed by Delaware in the same year. The two share an “Interstate Poker Compact”, which facilitates players in both state to play online poker with each other. New Jersey also legalised online poker sites in 2013. Some states, like California, are conflicted when it comes to definitive legislation regulating online gambling. CA online poker isn’t considered to be unlawful but so far there is not a state bill legalising the practice.
Only in the state of Washington is the act of playing online poker actually a felony.
The New Jersey online gaming legislation precess took around nine months to become law, a reasonable timeframe which many in Pennsylvania hope to emulate with the HB649 bill. Pennsylvanian officials have acknowledged that they’ll be looking to the the New Jersey model when implementing their own version.