Online gambling has been an often-discussed but rarely undertaken topic in American politics over the last 12 months, but on Wednesday lawmakers in Pennsylvania finally took action.
State Representative John Payne (R-District 106) introduced HB 649 last February, an act “providing for authorized interactive gaming.”
On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee finally voted 18-8 in favor of moving the legislation to the floor to open up the debate with chamber’s 203 statewide representatives.
Payne chairs the Gaming Oversight Committee, though his bill also received the endorsement of State Rep. Nick Kotik (D-District 45), the democratic chair of the group.
Exiting the state capitol in Harrisburg, Payne said that his bill isn’t an attempt to authorize online gambling but to simply regulate the already present practice. “I want to protect the children and the compulsive gamer,” Payne stated.
Now moving to the state’s House of Representatives is legislation that would grant online gambling companies with the chance to reach Pennsylvania residents at a cost of $5 million per license.
Their gross revenues would also be taxed at a rate of 14 percent.
Payne isn’t only going after poker but casino games in general, the longtime politician believing legalizing all interactive formats is in the best interest of the Commonwealth.
“The legalization of slot machines and table games in Pennsylvania has delivered substantial benefits to the Commonwealth, including tax revenue for property tax relief and general economic development,” Payne affirms. “Developments in technology and recent legal decisions have created an opportunity to legalize interactive gaming as a means to further enhance and complement the benefits delivered by casino gaming.”
Should his colleagues vote to pass the bill and send to Governor Tom Wolf, it would theoretically abolish offshore sites from catering to Pennsylvanians due to heavy penalties on rogue operators.
Fines for individuals and gaming entities found to be in violation of HB 649 would face punishments of up to $1.2 million.
The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) has been flooding commercial breaks in Pennsylvania with attack ads on Payne’s quest to legalize Internet betting.
In a spot titled “Are Pennsylvania Kids Safe Online?” CSIG says the legislator is “working hard to legalize predatory online gambling,” and asks viewers to call Payne and tell him “predatory online gambling is not the answer.”
CSIG has reported the commercials were part of a “six-figure” campaign. The coalition will presumably step up its efforts by first reaching out to Sheldon Adelson, its most devout supporter.
Adelson has said in the past he’ll spend “whatever it takes” to stop states from continuing to authorize online betting. Though he’s willing and has opened his checkbook, iGaming only seems to be gaining traction across the country as states continue to find themselves underfunded.
In addition to Pennsylvania, several jurisdictions including California and New York are expected to continue discussions regarding online casinos in 2016.
Adelson is worth around $30 billion, but unless he’s willing to donate some of his fortune to state lawmakers to cover budget deficits, the talks to permit Internet gambling will continue.