Pennsylvania Online Gambling Bill Passes Committee Vote
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives Gaming Oversight Committee voted in favor of H.B. 649, a bill which would legalize and regulate online gambling, on Wednesday by an 18 to 8 vote. The bill now advances to the main floor of the House.
H.B. 649 was introduced by Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. John Payne in February and has been the topic of multiple committee hearings since then. It would permit the dozen land-based casinos in the Commonwealth to offer intrastate online gambling, including poker, as well as allow online gaming operators to partner with the casinos in order to get in on the action. Ironically, one of those casinos is the Sands Bethlehem, owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corp. That company is headed by Sheldon Adelson, who has said he plans to do “whatever it takes” to stop online gambling in the United States. It was he and his cronies who created the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), a bill which aims to make online gambling illegal in the U.S. One would imagine that the other eleven casinos in Pennsylvania would not be sad at all if Sands Bethlehem sat out in a regulated internet gaming regime.
“With the passage of H.B. 649, the House Gaming Oversight Committee has proven their commitment to providing Pennsylvania residents with a safe and regulated place to play online poker within their own borders,” said John Pappas, executive director of the PPA, in the press release. “The PPA thanks Chairman John Payne and the Committee for their leadership. Now this bill needs to become law. The safety of consumers and the fiscal health of Pennsylvania will be vastly improved when Internet gaming is appropriately licensed, regulated and taxed. It is our hope that the legislation will be enacted on its own or as part of the state’s 2016 budget by the end of this year.”
If the bill gets through the full House, it will then move on to the state Senate. If it gets enough votes there, it will be sent to Governor Tom Wolf’s desk for final approval.
H.B. 649 could also become law by being included in Pennsylvania’s budget for the 2016 fiscal year. State legislators have been struggling with the budget – it is several months overdue – and are trying to figure out how to lessen a $2 billion budget shortfall. An instant money maker like online gambling could be seen as one way to put at least a small dent into it. Analysts estimate that online gambling would generate $184 million for Pennsylvania in the first year.
Rep. Payne’s bill establishes a licensing fee of $5 million and a 14 percent tax on gross gaming revenues.
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