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scared-manAt the beginning of September, United States poker players were still reeling from the failure of California to pass online poker legislation again, despite a great deal of progress made in 2016. But hope did live in Pennsylvania, where the legislature was preparing to return for an abbreviated fall session in which online gambling seemed likely to pass. And at the end of September, that hope still lives.

However, everyone seemed rather blindsided by a new bill in Congress to ban online gambling altogether. While RAWA was — for all intents and purposes — dead in the water and unlikely to be revived in a year filled with crazy election politics, Sheldon Adelson was making his moves behind the scenes.

So as we close out the month and head into October, all eyes are on Pennsylvania and the new RAWA effort, and the Poker Players Alliance certainly has its work cut out on both fronts with one bill to push and the other to squash.

United States

As mentioned, the last attempts to push the Restoration of America’s Wire Act on Congress failed. Adelson’s favorite members of Congress had been unsuccessful with their efforts, even with names like Senator Lindsey Graham and Rep. Jason Chaffetz on the job.

Adelson then put the youngest member of the Senate in charge of the new RAWA bill, and Senator Tom Cotton introduced S.3376 in late September. Details were scarce for the first week after its appearance, with only a brief description of the legislation published:

A bill to ensure the integrity of laws enacted to prevent the use of financial instruments for funding or operating online casinos are not undermined by legal opinions not carrying the force of law issued by Federal Government lawyers.

But more of the story emerged thanks to investigative reporter Catherine Ho at the Washington Post. She revealed that Adelson donated $20 million to a super PAC with close ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell not long before Cotton made his move. Cotton is among the Republicans in Congress supported by the PAC, along with RAWA bill co-sponsors Graham and Senator Mike Lee.

Coincidence? We think not. Adelson and his pet Congressmen are likely trying to push the bill through Congress quietly during the current political storm or in the subsequent lame duck session.

Status: Lurking, could be serious.

sheldon adelson

Pennsylvania

This is going down to the wire and will keep poker players on their toes until the last minute, it seems.

When the legislature ended its previous session, a gambling expansion bill — which included the legalization of online gambling — passed the Pennsylvania House but did not make it to the Senate in time for passage before the summer break. However, Governor Tom Wolf signed a budget that required $100 million from the same gambling bill that did not pass. This indicated the bill was still alive and needed to pass in the fall session in order to fund that part of the budget.

The problem with the fall session is there are very few days to get anything done. Seeing as the Senate must pass the bill first and it was only scheduled to meet for nine days in September and October, there was a tight window in which to push HB 2150. And as September comes to a close, only six of those days remain. The House must then pass the bill but has a few extra days to do so.

Just before the Senate returned, the House Gaming Oversight Committee announced a public hearing to be held to discuss online gambling, presumably as an avenue by which to show support of HB 2150 and encourage the Senate to pass it. The bad news was that on September 27, the day of the hearing, it was cancelled with little notice and no reason. The good news was that the bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Payne, soon announced that the hearing was rescheduled for October 18.

With a hearing on October 18, that gives the Senate exactly four days, not including October 18, to pass the bill, send it to the House for its vote, and then send it to off for the governor’s signature.

Status: Shaky but hopeful.

California

Status: Shelved until 2017

Michigan

Status: Likely shelved until 2017.

New York

Status: Shelved until 2017.

Ohio

Say what?

The Columbus Dispatch reported this month that online gaming may be on the agenda in the future. Governor John Kasich previously ordered a study of the Ohio Lottery and its business. The initial draft report from Spectrum Gaming Group recommended various changes for the lottery, including some form of privatization. More pertinent to the gaming world, however, was the recommendation that the organization expand into online gaming. It may be examined further, along with daily fantasy sports and other gaming expansions for the state, in 2017.

Status: Unlikely but possible.

Massachusetts

This comes to us from yet another study but not a complete surprise, as Massachusetts has considered online gambling legislation in the past.

Research requested by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission was discussed by its primary investigator, University of Massachusetts Professor Rachel Volberg, in September. While a survey showed that only two percent of the population gambled online in the past year, the numbers of people who gambled in general was significant. A number of lawmakers have shown interest in DFS as well as online gaming, including poker, and lottery officials are very interested in offering online sales. Governor Charlie Baker recently created a special commission to study online gaming, and word from that group is likely in early 2017.

Status: Bill introduction very possible.

Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.

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