Pennsylvania has online poker fans around the United States checking Twitter daily to see if there is any progress on the pending internet gaming bill. With only a few days left in the legislative calendar year for the Senate to pass the bill and send it to the House for passage, the poker community is a bit on edge.
It is understandable. Hopes were dashed in 2016 for New York and California to pass their online poker bills. Despite both states making great progress toward the licensing and regulation of online poker, efforts stalled in the summer months. Pennsylvania also made great progress this year, with passage of the online gaming bill in the House and the inclusion of the bill’s revenue from online gambling expansion in the state’s final budget.
HB 2150 is of great interest in the fall legislative session, but several of the few available days for action have already passed. Even so, there are reasons to be hopeful.
Before the Senate even returned from its hiatus in September, the House Gaming Oversight Committee announced that there would be a public hearing to discuss the topic of online gambling as part of HB 2150, the online gambling expansion bill. That hearing, however, was cancelled on October 4 — the day it was supposed to happen. Soon after, the bill’s sponsor and online gambling champion Representative John Payne announced that the hearing was rescheduled for October 18.
At first glance, that does not seem like a good sign, as even a successful hearing on October 18 will only leave October 19, 24, 25, and 26 for the Senate to pass the bill. The House will have an extra two days in session in November, though, so even passage on October 26 in the Senate leaves time for the House to again pass the bill.
If PA pols try to attach tax fix to gaming reform bill and don't get it done by Oct 26, legislature will likely add session days— Steve Ruddock (@SteveRuddock) September 30, 2016
No reason was given for the delayed hearing, but Payne surely has a plan. A productive hearing may give it the fuel it needs to sail onto the Senate floor for a positive vote. Payne is likely working his Senate colleagues and contacts in order to ensure that enough votes are in place to pass it. Seeing as the state budget is already expecting $100 million from gaming expansion to fill a revenue gap, there is pressure on the legislature to get the bill to the governor.
Court Ruling Adds Incentive
As reported by Steve Ruddock of Online Poker Report, a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling found that the tax structure of the 2004 gaming law is unconstitutional and ordered the legislature to fix it within 120 days from the decision. That means lawmakers must address that aspect of the state’s gaming statutes in the current session and before the holiday break.
Ruddock theorized that the pressure on the Senate to work on this issue will bring online gambling and other gambling-related topics contained in HB 2150 to the floor, giving it a better chance of passing. An amendment to HB 2150 could address the tax issue and give more urgency to the bill.
Poker Players Asked to Assist
The Poker Players Alliance is working all partnerships in the Pennsylvania legislature to ensure that the state follows through with its online gambling regulation. And they are asking for the public’s help as well, noting that the more the lawmakers hear from their constituents and see the massive public support for the bill, the better the chances they will feel pressured to pass it.
A lot is happening in PA's gaming world. Legislators need to know we want them to act on iGaming now https://t.co/PtH13lkO64— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) October 4, 2016
The PPA website has a special page set up for the purpose of getting the poker public involved: ThePPA.org/PA-alert/. Action can be taken directly from that page, as all pertinent legislators are listed and pre-written tweets are composed for ease of using social media to express pro-poker opinions.
Less than two weeks remain until the House Gaming Oversight Committee hearing on October 18, after which the Senate must act within days to pass the bill. Time is of the essence.