Pennsylvania lawmakers are playing with the hearts of online poker players in America. They led us on and asked us out. We bought something special to wear and did our hair. And just a few hours before the big date, they called and postponed it until the fall. We’re fairly sure it’s going to be worth the wait, but waiting is the hardest part.=
In other words, the Pennsylvania legislature is now on a summer break and won’t return until late September. The House reconvenes on September 19, and the Senate goes back into session one week later. Online poker hopes are on hold until September or October, as a budget was passed with the inclusion of online gambling revenue, but the actual online gambling bill was not passed.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
As the summer got underway, Pennsylvania looked so promising to join Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey in the burgeoning US online poker market. State Representative John Payne had been pushing hard, especially in the months before his retirement. His HB 649 grow into a larger gambling expansion bill, and after much wrangling over the inclusion of video gaming terminals, excluded those VGTs and moved forward.
The bill transformed into HB 2150, and it passed the House in June by a 115-80 vote. The Poker Players Alliance celebrated, as did many poker fans who could almost taste the success.
Much Ado about Nothing?
At that point, it got confusing. Word came on July 12 that the state budget passed through the Senate and became law with the signature of Governor Tom Wolf.
Bad news: Online gambling was omitted from the final bill.
Good news: The $31.5 billion budget included $100 million in revenue to come from gambling expansion.
Bad news: That gambling bill, including online poker, will have to be passed by the Senate when it reconvenes… in late September.
Good news: Most analysts say it is very likely to pass without delay.
In essence, the budget does count on internet gambling to meet the numbers in the new budget, though the funds are not needed immediately. That means the gambling expansion bill is not urgent, and the possibility is there that the bill can change before votes are taken. It should still pass in some form in the fall months, though, as the budget does require that $100 million of Pennsylvania’s necessary revenue come from online gaming.
There are alternatives, however. As Steve Ruddock points on for Online Poker Report, the legislature could find an alternate source for that revenue and strike that gaming provision from the budget. Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Bethlehem continues to fight against online gaming and could influence enough members of the Senate to derail it. And if VGTs are added back into the bill, opponents of those machines could push back as well. There are ways the bill could die.
Those are worst case scenarios. On a less dire note, the legislation could be delayed until early 2017 if there are enough reasons to ignore it or try to change it.
Best Case Scenario
The Poker Players Alliance is quite optimistic about online gaming in Pennsylvania this year. And this is a pet project of Payne, something he would like to accomplish before his retirement later this year. In addition, the $100 million in revenue is significant to the budget, the state, and the gaming industry that needs to stay competitive with neighboring states like New Jersey.
The most likely scenario, by most accounts, is that the Senate reconvenes in late September and takes a solid look at the gambling expansion bill. It could pass as early as the last week of September or the early weeks of October, going on to Governor Wolf for his final approval. Even a few minor changes would allow the bill to pass in October.
Internet poker & iGaming are on the balance sheet for the PA budget. This is very good news and I expect authorization bill this Fall.-JP— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) July 13, 2016
The PPA is still asking for player support. When the legislature returns from the summer break, it will be immensely important for poker players and fans to contact their Pennsylvania lawmakers to express support and give the reasons that online poker should be legal in their state. The special alert page on the PPA website provides information about ways to help.
Sometimes, it really does take a village. And a lucky river card.