Pennsylvania Online Poker Bill Ready to Fold?

Posted on October 24th, 2016 by Alana Markoff
online poker Pennsylvania internet gaming legislation

The Poker Players Alliance is asking its members and followers to push Pennsylvania lawmakers into backing online poker and gambling legislation, but there appears to be little action on the topic in Harrisburg. (Image: facebook.com/theppa)

The legalization of Pennsylvania online poker seemed imminent this summer after the state’s House of Representatives passed HB 2150, State Rep. George Dunbar’s (R-District 56) online gaming and daily fantasy sports (DFS) bill.

The July approval by the lower house fueled speculation that residents in the Keystone State could be playing online games this winter. But ever since HB 2150 was delivered to the Senate’s Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee, enthusiasm has only slowly diminished.

Today marks the first of four final regularly scheduled session days for the Pennsylvania Senate. HB 2150 continues to sit with State Sen. Kim Ward’s (R-District 39) community and economic committee, but according to the official Senate calendar, the group doesn’t have any additional meetings scheduled.

HB 2150 cannot advance to the Senate floor for a vote without first being recommended by Ward’s committee.

Host Tax Takes Precedence

Following this week’s three sessions, the Pennsylvania House will meet for two final days in November (14, 15), with the Senate slated to return for one final day on November 16. With the Senate’s Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee seemingly adjourned for the fall, online gaming is expected to be delayed until the 2017 legislative session commences in January.

A ruling earlier this month by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in favor of casinos not being forced to pay a $10 million minimum local share tax to their host municipalities was thought to increase online poker’s odds. It now appears that’s not the case.

In early October, the high court said the local share assessment is a non-uniform tax and therefore violates state law.

Land-based casinos outside of the Philadelphia region are required to pay two percent of their gross slots revenue, or $10 million, whichever is greater, to their local counties. Since no casino has generated $500 million from slots in a single year, which would equate to the $10 million minimum, casinos all issue varying checks to make up the difference.

With upwards of $100 million at stake, the state Supreme Court delayed the implementation of its ruling by 120 days to give lawmakers time to reword the tax law to make sure cities and towns continue benefiting from allowing casinos in their backyards. That task has superseded internet gaming in importance.

House Gaming Leaders Frustrated

The 2016-17 state operating budget Governor Tom Wolf (D) signed into law in July assumes $100 million in new tax revenue from online gaming and DFS. With HB 2150 passed in the House, gaming observers largely assumed the Senate would swiftly act on the legislation to authorize internet casinos and generate additional money without raising taxes on individuals.

The Republican-controlled state legislature has been tasked with finding ways to fund Wolf’s increased spending on education, while keeping their constituents happy. For GOP voters, the number one issue is taxes, and not raising them.

But for reasons unknown, Ward has avoided the online gaming topic. That angers no one more than Rep. John Payne (R-District 106), the chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee who is retiring at the end of November.

“This is about doing what’s right for the gaming industry in Pennsylvania and protecting our consumers,” Payne said recently.

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