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Pennsylvania is the last hope for online poker to be legalized and regulated in another state before the end of the year. Other states forfeited their opportunities earlier in 2016 – ahem, California and New York – but Pennsylvania still has a chance to jump on the slow-moving United States online poker bandwagon.

Though there is a good chance that the bill to legalize online poker and other forms of internet gambling will pass due to the inclusion of that revenue in the budget approved before the summer legislative break, there are only a few days during which lawmakers can act. And in order to make it happen, the Poker Players Alliance is lobbying hard in Pennsylvania, and they need your help.

Where It Stands

State Representative John Payne pushed consistently in the first part of 2016, as he had done in years past, to legalize and regulate online poker and gambling. His bill turned into a larger gambling expansion proposal, which was HB 2150 and passed the House of Representatives in June. The bill stopped there and did not pass the Senate before the summer break.

The good news, though, was that the revenue expected from online gambling and other expansion measures was inserted into the state budget, which was passed in mid-July and signed by Governor Tom Wolf. There was $100 million in the budget that needed to come from the unpassed gambling bill, meaning the budget needs that money to fulfill its obligations.

The Pennsylvania House returned to session this week, and the Senate will come back to work next Monday, September 26. With the upcoming holidays and time off for the November elections, there are very few days that the legislature will actually be in session.

The Senate will meet on these days only:

  • September 26-28
  • October 17-19
  • October 24-26

And the House is meeting on these days:

  • September 20-21
  • September 26-28
  • October 17-19
  • October 24-26
  • November 14-15

As it stands, the Senate must pass the bill first, then the House must pass it, and the Governor can then sign it into law. That translates into only 10 in-session voting days to move forward IF the Senate passes the gambling expansion bill on its first day back in session next week.

What to Do?

For the most part, supporters of the bill must wait to see what happens.

According to one lawmaker, State Representative Rosita Youngblood, it needs to happen this year. She told Online Poker Report last week, “If we do not pass something this fall, the taxpayers of this Commonwealth will be on the hook for that $100 million.” She noted that 2017 will bring new lawmakers who have yet to educate themselves or debate this bill, and the House Gaming Oversight Committee will have two new chairmen who may also be unfamiliar with the bill.

Youngblood also noted, “For me and many of my colleagues, regulating i-gaming is the only way to truly rein in black market, off-shore operators that prey on problem and compulsive gamblers, and could care less about protecting against underage gambling. And that is why we need to get a bill to Gov. Wolf’s desk this fall.”

While Youngblood is pushing for the bill to pass, others may need some encouragement. The Poker Players Alliance wants to ensure that they hear from their constituents and other interested parties who support online poker legislation.

PPA Vice President of Player Relations Rich Muny told PokerUpdate this week about the status of the bill. “Just prior to the August recess, legislation including online poker passed the House 114-85. And, the PA legislature passed a spending bill — also just before the recess — but failed to pass a revenue bill. So, the Commonwealth needs revenue for money it’s already spending.”

Further, the PPA needs that help from the poker community, not just residents of Pennsylvania. “We are encouraging poker players, enthusiasts, and supporters nationwide to tell the PA Senate to pass online poker licensing now. We want the PA Senate to take action in general, but we specifically want them to pass this in 2016 and not kick the can down the road into 2017. The PPA has made this easy. Simply visit the PPA website at ThePPA.org/PA-alert/ to take action via social media to ensure lawmakers know the people want this important legislation to pass.”

Let’s do this, shall we? Let’s make sure Pennsylvania lawmakers know how many people support the bill.

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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.

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