Pennsylvania is one-third of the way to becoming the fourth state to legalize and regulate online poker. The state's House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that would expand gambling in the Commonwealth by authorizing online gaming, daily fantasy sports, and the addition of slot machines to airports and off-track betting parlors.
The bill will need to be passed by the Senate and signed Gov. Tom Wolf for Pennsylvania to join New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada as states to allow online poker.
Pennsylvania is the second state this year to pass an online poker bill through a legislative branch, following the New York Senate earlier this month. That bill was dead by the end of the week as the Assembly passed daily fantasy sports legislation but stayed away from online poker as the legislative session ended. Assemblyman Gary Pretlow told PokerNews this was because he could justify daily fantasy sports as a game of skill, but not poker.
It's a different situation in Pennsylvania, where they don't care if poker is a game of skill and the Senate has more than two days to act on the issue. The state is looking for sources of revenue to help fund a proposed $31.5 billion budget, and a fiscal note attached to the bill estimates that the combined gaming expansions will generate $266.5 million in revenue from licenses and tax revenues in 2016-17.
However, the bill certainly had its detractors in the House, passing by only a 114-85 vote. There's reason for optimism, but prospects are muddled at this point. The good news is that a controversial amendment to allow video gaming terminals at any state entity with a liquor license was rejected last week, improving the bill's chances in the Senate.
The time frame for movement in Pennsylvania also is unclear. The budget is supposed to be completed before the next fiscal year begins July 1, so things could move very fast. However, last year a budget standoff went on for nine months.
An interesting under-the-radar aspect of the bill is that it would allow Pennsylvania casinos to offer sports betting if federal law changes through legislation or an ongoing lawsuit brought by New Jersey that challenges Nevada's monopoly on the activity.
The Poker Players Alliance launched an action page for people to contact Pennsylvania representatives and urge them to support internet gaming. It's not limited to Pennsylvania residents, though people who do live in the state can make a larger impact.
"It is about time — this legislation is long overdue! Pennsylvanians deserve robust consumer protections and today the Pennsylvania House delivered," said John Pappas, executive director of the PPA. "Additionally, this legislation will create jobs and help the Commonwealth close its budget gap. This commonsense legislation is a win-win for Pennsylvania. The online poker community urges the Senate and Governor Wolf to act swiftly to approve this measure."
*Image courtesy of Sam LeVan/FreeImages.com.