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There are three states currently considering online poker bills in a somewhat serious manner: Pennsylvania, New York, and California. One of them is likely to be the fourth American state legalize and regulate online poker, and many signs point to Pennsylvania being that one.

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Bordering on Regulation

Just to the east of Pennsylvania is New Jersey. Some may argue that isn’t always a good thing, but stay with me on this one.

New Jersey legalized online poker and other forms of Internet gambling more than two years ago. From the launch through the end of February 2016, online gaming has garnered more than $309.5K in revenue (more than $60 million in online poker alone), with more than $46 million going to pay New Jersey taxes.

Those are substantial numbers for any state, especially in tough economic times. Pennsylvania is taking notes, and not only is the tax revenue appealing, but the assistance for the state’s gaming industry and expansion of it is very tempting. As Pennsylvania watches other states build land-based casinos and grow their customer bases, legislators know that the state must expand its gaming options in order to remain competitive and continue building a reputation as an Atlantic City alternative.

This month, PokerStars jumped into the New Jersey mix, and it is already making an impact on Resorts Casino business as the online gaming company’s partner. And in the first week alone, PokerStars has attracted hundreds of new customers to the statewide online gaming business, prompting cash game traffic alone to rise by 20%.

Again, Pennsylvania is taking notes. And it is likely that thoughts of interstate player liquidity sharing are dancing in the legislators’ heads.=

Payne is Poker’s Friend

Pennsylvania State Representative John Payne has long been pushing for the regulation of online poker. And his current bill – HB 649 – made significant progress last year with passage through the House Gaming Oversight Committee and inclusion in the House’s budget proposal.

As of January, Payne was on record with confidence that his bill will pass by the middle of the 2016 summer in some form, whether as a standalone bill or as part of the state budget. Considering Pennsylvania never passed its 2015 budget and is feeling pressure from residents to pass one this year, it may indeed pass before legislators go on their summer break.

HB 649 has been amended in recent months to include other forms of gambling expansion for the state, and as far as has been reported, all of the state’s land-based casino operators are on board with the bill, including online gaming, with the lone exception of Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Casino in Bethlehem.

Payne is also set to retire, as he recently announced he will not seek reelection after having served since 2002. It makes sense that he wants to accomplish various goals before leaving office, and finally passing the online poker bill is likely one of them.

Keystone State can Trump New York and California

Nope. Pennsylvania would like to beat New York to the punch and legalize online gambling before New York gets the chance. And that time is coming soon, as online poker was just added to the New York Senate’s budget proposal. With land-based casinos in the works and more competition facing Pennsylvania’s casinos, it would behoove Pennsylvania to move first.

The East Coast of the United States could quickly fill up with legalized online poker regulations, expanding the small industry from Delaware and New Jersey to a line of states up and down the coast. The benefits of acting early and working out liquidity agreements with other states are many, and the sooner a state gets into the game, the better.

Meanwhile, California efforts to legalize online poker seem to have slowed. Despite PokerStars’ early successes in New Jersey, the CEO of parent company Amaya is facing numerous insider trading charges, which has piqued the attention of special interests in California. Those who fought for the bad actor clause to be a part of the online poker bill are likely to revisit the topic and insist that PokerStars is a danger to the industry. This is likely to slow the efforts in the Sunshine State and possibly put online poker on the back burner there once again.

Pennsylvania has the chance to build on New Jersey’s successes in this burgeoning industry. And all signs point to legislators taking that chance.

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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.