Pennsylvania Online Gambling Bill Being Reconsidered in June 2016

A Pennsylvania bill, which was shelved at the end of the legislative session, last year, has come off the side-lines. The House Bill, HB 649 – Online Gambling Expansion Act, calls for the state’s 12 brick and mortar casinos to be issues with licenses that would allow them to run online casino operations on the side too.

The efforts to legalise online gaming, was extensively influenced after Michigan and California confirmed considering similar pieces of legislations in their own respective states; the Pennsylvania bill is expected to be considered by the full House in June, 2016.

Gaming Environment in Pennsylvania

The casino industry, for the Keystone State, was launched in 2006, when they set the initial gaming win records at $31.57 million. The industry continued to grow over the past decade and reported an all-time high figure of $3.17 billion, for total gaming revenues, in 2015. March 2016 saw the winning from just table games reach a high of $78 million, in Pennsylvania; $5.2 million of which was attributed to poker alone. The gaming industry leaders are also determined that the regulated gambling market for the state will grow by another 10% this year. Pennsylvania’s neighbour to the East, New Jersey, broke their record for online gaming revenues in April, 2016, which was reported at around $17 million. All facts and figures point to a booming gambling market in the area, which could explain the re-emergence of online gambling and poker on the agenda of the legislature.

How HB 649 fared in the 2015 Budget Discussions

The gambling expansion package, as House Bill HB 649 is being addressed, passed a committee vote in November, 2015 and was even part of a budget discussion, last year but was shelved and not included in the year’s budget.

That idea of increasing gambling licenses gained some traction in the short term but was dismissed because of some provisions that proved unpopular with the Senate, such as allowing video gaming terminals in taverns around the area. Despite that, online gambling continued to be a favoured and non-controversial part of the discussion.

Considering HB – 649 in the 2016 Budget Discussions

While it to common knowledge that all states, which are looking to boost their depressed tax revenues, turn toward gambling, State Representative, John Payne,  the sponsor of iGaming legislation and the Chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, mentioned that consumer protection has also become an issue of utmost importance in the field of online gaming.

Payne is convinced that Pennsylvania residents are playing at online poker rooms and casinos, which are operated through offshore sites; and therefore, offering them some form of consumer protection should be on the state’s agenda.

He said, “While the games would generate some extra cash, the main aim is to bring state oversight to something that’s already happening illegally.”

He also added that the gambling expansion package will not be able to rescue the state from all their financial problems.

”Is that the savior for the budget problem? No, but isn’t it the right thing to do to protect our children and compulsive gamblers?” the Dauphin County Republican added.

Legalisation of online gaming will surely give the state an injection of funds but addressing the consumer protection issues may appeal more to the wider swath of lawmakers.

Future of the iGaming Expansion Bill

Nick Kotik, the Democratic Chairman of the Gaming Oversight Committee, and Payne, have both been active advocates of the gaming expansion package and online gaming in particular; however, both men have announced that they are will not be running for re-election in 2016. Therefore, if the efforts to legalise online gambling and online poker fail at this year’s legislative hearings, the future of iGaming in the state could be left in a permanent state of uncertainty, with neither men in power to generate momentum for the bill to be signed into law.

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