Pennsylvania online gambling once seemed about as likely as Punxsutawney Phil correctly predicting whether six more weeks of winter is ahead, but the weather could be changing in the Keystone State thanks to a new proposition.
Introduced by State Rep. John Payne (R-District 106), House Bill 649 (HB 649) seeks to legalize online gambling in order to help reduce the state’s projected $2 billion budget shortfall while combatting citizens from using rogue casino sites.
“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,” Payne said. “Establishing a strong regulatory framework under the Gaming Control Board will assist in shutting down these illegal sites and enhance consumer protection for our gaming residents.”
According to a Philadelphia-based economic consulting firm, Payne says the state stands to generate $120 million in revenues should his proposal pass.
Bill Welcomes PokerStars?
Payne’s legislation boils down to three main specifics:
1. All Internet gaming would be conducted under current gaming licensees
2. An online casino license would cost $5 million
3. Gross iGaming revenues would be taxed at a rate of 14 percent
So what’s it all mean? The first point is the main topic of discussion, as it could signal a pathway for PokerStars to enter the United States. Payne stresses that gaming companies not already operating in the state under current law won’t be permitted to obtain an online license.
Caesars recently reversed its longstanding opposition to a PokerStars return, doing a 180 and actually partnering with the world’s largest online poker network to promote online gambling in the US. That partnership could ultimately lead to PokerStars utilizing Caesars’ gaming license it holds through Harrah’s to enter the state.
But like everywhere else on planet Earth, Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson has his hand in Pennsylvania, too. The business magnate owns the Sands Bethlehem, one of the state’s most profitable land-based casinos. The outspoken critic of online gambling will likely voice his opinion on Payne’s legislation should it continue to gain traction.
HB 649 comes following the announcement that the House Committee on Gaming Oversight will discuss Internet and mobile gaming at a hearing on April 16th. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Payne chairs the gaming oversight committee and his bill will certainly be at the center of the discussion.
Though Payne’s proposal might seem reasonable to many interested online gamblers and its 18 co-sponsors, state lawmakers have been historically opposed to expanding land and online gambling. The hearing could help sway legislators, or could reinforce their positions depending on who the committee questions.
Another potential roadblock is newly elected Governor Tom Wolf (D) who said he’s opposed to online gambling during last fall’s campaign season. The topic of legalizing iGaming has moved towards being a center issue, with Democrats no longer more inclined to be in favor than Republicans.
Traditionally a red state aside from the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metropolises, PA’s old motto “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania” might not ring true in the end for PokerStars.