Online poker and gambling is officially back on the table in Pennsylvania.
What happened with PA online poker this week?
HB 649 — a bill introduced way back in February — got new life, as it was considered and voted on in the House Gaming Oversight Committee with little forewarning. After some amendments were considered, it passed along bipartisan lines, 18-8.
The bill, it turns out, had earlier been amended to become a giant gaming expansion package, leaving behind its roots as the online gaming-only bill introduced in the winter by Rep. John Payne.
Does the gaming bill have a chance of passing?
Payne, by his comments in recent months, has been doing a lot of legwork behind the scenes on online gaming. It seems unlikely the bill would have come up before the committee had Payne or other top Republicans felt like it had no chance of passing.
Online gaming, on its own, had been fairly noncontroversial, other than differences on how it should be implemented. There are elements in the bill as it stands now that are far more controversial — such as the times a casino can serve alcohol and the expansion of slots in the commonwealth to new locations.
It’s possible the unwieldy gaming package could be scuttled by having too many elements, but it can still be amended and edited down. But with the legislature needing ways to come up with generating revenue in the ongoing budget battle, it seems likely some sort of gaming expansion will be a part of the final budget. Online gaming alone could generate more than $100 million in 2016 between licensing fees and tax revenues.
The bill also had support from both Democrats and Republicans, with some members of both parties voting against it. The Republicans hold a huge majority in both houses, but Democratic votes could help stem the tide against conservatives who would rather not expand gaming in the state once again.
What’s next for the online gaming bill?
There are two possible paths forward for HB 649.
The bill could get folded into the larger budget negotiations and pass as part of a suite of revenue generating measures. It could also progress along its own track as a standalone bill.
There’s been no sense of the future of the bill, so far, but it is certainly destined for more action. The Poker Players Alliance has started as an advocacy web page so that Pennsylvania online poker players can make their voices heard.
The bill is far from a guarantee to become a law. But Pennsylvania is a lot closer to having legalized online poker and casino games than it ever has been before.