Another eventful month is in the past. March brought new developments in the world of US online gaming but no concrete progress toward any passage of a bill to legalize the games. However, it is important to keep in mind that the year is only three months old, and all steps toward educating legislators and debating bills constitute progress.
With more states now in the running to legalize and regulate online poker and casinos, April is poised to be a key month of further developments.
Federal US Online Poker
Nothing new happened in March on the federal level regarding United States online gaming laws. New US Attorney General Jeff Sessions is busy getting his feet wet in the new job and working on a slew of nationally critical issues. On the whole, the Trump administration is doing the same, as issues like immigration and healthcare dominate the political environment.
There were ups and downs in Pennsylvania in March. At the end of February, there was one bill that had been officially introduced. Representative George Dunbar and seven cosponsors put HB.392 on the map, but promises for a corresponding Senate bill had yet to materialize.
In March, that Senate bill did make its debut when four Republican Senators introduced S.477. It was identical to the House bill and set the stage for legislators to take action on internet gambling, as well as the other gambling expansion measures in the proposal.
On March 7, a joint hearing of House and Senate committees put online gambling on the table for debate, with the only one of the state’s 12 casinos with serious concerns emerging as Parx Casino. Fears of cannibalization came to the fore, though other testimony showed proof that online gaming only compliments land-based casino business, as demonstrated thus far in neighboring New Jersey.
A bump in the road came to light the following week when five Republican members of the House introduced a bill – HB.801 – to officially prohibit and criminalize online gambling. It has yet to garner much attention, support, or debate, however.
And that was followed by an odd development, as State Senator Jay Costa and three cosponsors put a different bill up for consideration. S.524 proposed the same legalization and regulation of online gambling as reflected in previous bills, but it increased the tax rate and licensing fees to amounts that are widely seen as exorbitant. Three bills on the table may be confusing and create more debate than most supporters previously anticipated.
Senator Costa in Pennsylvania has introduced his version of the iGaming bill. Biggest difference is tax rate of 25% https://t.co/xRuzIBPea6— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) March 21, 2017
The month began with two bills up for debate. New York Assemblyman Gary Pretlow had offered A.5250 in the House, which followed State Senator John Bonacic’s S.3898. The identical bills seek the legalization and regulation of internet poker. And the latter passed a Senate committee unanimously but still awaited handling by the Finance Committee.
Excitement swirled in March when online poker made it into the Senate budget for the fiscal year of 2017/2018, but Pretlow quickly turned that around in comments to Online Poker Report. He noted that he didn’t believe that it would remain in the budget through the various revisions because “there are people opposed to it who are higher than me and don’t want it in the budget.” He continued, “They want to do it separately and want to look at it more fully.” With some lawmakers still hesitant about the safety of the online games, the bills may require further hearings and debate before going for a stand-alone vote in the legislature in the coming months. Both sponsoring lawmakers do remain committed to pushing the bills, however.
It was a quiet month for California in relation to the online poker bill introduced by State Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer earlier in the year. No news came from any parties in the legislature regarding progress on the bill. While talks may be ongoing behind closed doors between various tribes and lawmakers regarding the suitability of PokerStars for the industry, no one is talking about it.
Action got underway on the first day of March in Michigan. Last year’s instigator of online gambling legalization again introduced legislation, as State Senator Mike Kowall this time put forth two bills – S.203 and S.204. Two other bills went with them, with S.202 from Jack Brandenburg regarding social gaming and S.205 discussing guidelines for violations of the other bills.
A few days after the introduction, the bills were taken up by the Senate Committee on Regulatory Reform. The short hearing pushed the key bill – S.203 – through to the floor of the Senate with a 7-1 vote. Kowall moved it quickly, and it now sits at the same place it did last year when it failed to make it to an actual vote. Without companion legislation in the House at this point, the waiting game begins to see if any further action will be taken in the coming months.
MI Senate Committee passes 7-1 and the bill moves forward! We expected this. Now the work really begins— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) March 8, 2017
This one came out of nowhere, mostly. West Virginia Assemblyman Shawn Fluharty and four cosponsors introduced H.3067 to amend current laws in order to legalize and regulate interactive gaming, including poker and casino games.
The legislation contains provisions to license games in connection with land-based gambling establishments, including racetracks, and to allow for interstate agreements for online poker liquidity, as well as to criminalize unlicensed online gaming. The stance of the West Virginia Lottery Commission, however, is unclear.
Not much news has come from Massachusetts in the past month, as the state’s gaming commission continues to discuss and research online lottery and gambling options behind closed doors. The special commission studying the issue isn’t due to report results until the summer, and little has leaked from the meetings held thus far.
However, the Boston Globe wrote a story about the issue this week, indicating that lawmakers are actively discussing online gaming in the hopes that it would “make the state a leader in the technology that supports the burgeoning online gambling industry.” Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby, an advocate for online poker and casino games, told the news outlet that they could become “another modest but real economic engine” for the state.
No news came from the other states currently considering online gaming. Washington, New Hampshire, and Hawaii remained quiet in March.