Pennsylvania made perhaps the most progress of any states in 2014 with regard to joining the other three states in regulating online gambling.
By the looks of things in early March, the Keystone State will win the same title in 2015. California currently leads Pennsylvania in the number of igaming bills introduced by legislators in 2015 at 4-2, but the Golden State is seemingly much farther behind in advancing any of those bills to the next level.
Two Bills, Two Directions, One Purpose – Revenue
Earlier this week, Pennsylvania Rep. Nick Miccarelli tossed a 2nd igaming bill (HB 695) into the ring for perusal by his fellow lawmakers. That followed the proposal (HB 649) that Rep. John Payne volleyed last week.
HB 695 encompasses much of what went into a proposal (HB 2297) by Miccarelli in 2014. It’s an online poker-only bill that seemingly includes PokerStars, taking into consideration that the company has changed ownership (Amaya) since its alleged bad actor days.
That differs from HB 649, which includes bad actor language, and also includes the ability of gaming licensees to offer online casino games in addition to poker. Both bills set $5 million licensing fees, 14% tax rates on revenue, and require igaming applicants to be currently licensed in land-based gambling.
Gaming Oversight Committee in Overdrive
Although not specifically mentioned on its calendar, both proposals may get a look-see by the Pennsylvania House Committee on Gaming Oversight at a public hearing that will look into “Internet Gaming and Mobile Gaming” on April 16. That committee, chaired by Rep. Payne, will be quite busy in coming days on issues pertaining to both land-based and online gambling.
Other public hearings scheduled by Payne and his colleagues on the gaming oversight committee are: a look at the “Distribution of State Gaming Funding to Counties” on March 12; “Keeping PA Casinos Competitive” on March 18, with two scheduled hearings that date on the same topic – the first at 9:00 a.m. at Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino in Chester, and the second at 2:00 p.m. at the Sugar House Casino in Philadelphia; and “Definitions of Games of Skill vs. Games of Chance” on April 1.
The spate of scheduled hearings pertaining to gambling have likely been prompted by declining revenue at Keystone State casinos. Pennsylvania is feeling the effects of casino competition from nearby states, similar to what New Jersey experienced when casinos began popping up in Pennsylvania.
Online gambling in the form of HB 649 and HB 695 may also take center stage at the March 18 hearings. When the topic is keeping Pennsylvania casinos competitive, an expansion into online poker and gambling should garner a great deal of attention. Pennsylvania remains in direct competition with New Jersey, the state that it passed over in recent years to claim 2nd place in the nation behind Nevada in land-based gambling.
Which bill has a better chance of passing? We may know more after the public hearings.