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By the end of 2016, the United States online poker industry had not been able to expand its reach beyond the three states already in the mix – Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey. But the two greatest hopes for doing so in 2017 were Pennsylvania and New York. Those two states furthered that hope by making early moves this year toward legalizing online poker, and they are now even closer to achieving that goal.

All on Board with Pennsylvania Online Gaming

The goal for the Pennsylvania legislature this year is to pass a bill that tackles an urgent casino tax issue as well as expands the gaming industry and adds more revenue to the state coffers. Legislators began that process just days into 2017 and continued making headway last week.

The road to legislation started with State Senator Kim Ward meeting with heads of all of the state’s 12 casinos and Senate Minority Leader Jim Costa revealed a bill proposal to expand gaming in Pennsylvania with the regulation of online gaming.

As it was the House of Representatives that passed the online gaming and gambling expansion bill at the end of 2016, its members again rose to the occasion last week. State Representative George Dunbar introduced HB.392, a new bill with seven co-sponsors, including Representatives Rosita Youngblood ad Dom Costa. Upon submission, the bill was referred to the Committee on Gaming Oversight.

The new bill proposes a fix for the local tax issue as well as multi-state progressive slot machines, mobile gambling at airports, more problem gambling initiatives, daily fantasy sports, and online poker and casino games. There will be an $8 million application fee for participating casinos, as well as a $250K annual renewal fee to retain the license, while operators will be required to pay a $2 million application fee and a $100K annual renewal cost. They will also pay 14% of gross gaming revenue to the state with 2% extra going to local governments.

Meanwhile, Governor Tom Wolf gave his annual address to legislators and included information about his new proposed budget. In it, the numbers include $250 million in new gaming revenue to be garnered from gambling expansion, which inevitably includes online gaming.

With a House Gaming Oversight Committee hearing scheduled for this week, a positive result could pressure the House to pass the bill expeditiously and push for the Senate to put forth a bill that they can pass without much delay.

All Pieces in Place for New York Online Poker

The state of New York came very close to passing an online poker bill in 2016 with a successful run through the Senate but no work done to pass it in the House. While State Senator John Bonacic remained a steadfast proponent of the game throughout the year, it was Assemblyman Gary Pretlow who seemed to discover some doubts about online poker as the year went on, enough so that he failed to push his own bill.

Bonacic wasted little time keeping his word to move forward in the Senate again this year, especially as the first of several land-based casinos opened and paved the way for ultimate online-live poker partnerships. At the end of January, Bonacic introduced S.3898, which was referred to the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee. Considering an identical bill passed the Senate by a 53-5 margin in 2016, he expects similar support within the coming months.

And Pretlow seems to have reboarded the online poker train. Last week, he put forth A.5250, a bill that is a companion to Bonacic’s Senate effort. Both bills would legalize and regulate online poker only – no casino games – as they would be classified as games of skill. As many as 11 licenses could be granted to casinos and other gaming-related establishments at the price of $10 million per license, which would be good for 10 years. The games would be taxed at 15% of gross gaming revenue. Interstate agreements to partner with other states for liquidity are also authorized by the bills.

Popular Support Will Push Bills

The Poker Players Alliance is working to ensure both states legalize online poker, which could happen in the next few months if legislators in Pennsylvania and New York see an outpouring of support for the bills. The PPA offers easy ways to contact lawmakers and express that support via email or social media.

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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.