Over the last year, Pennsylvania has leapfrogged California as the next state likely to regulate online poker. State lawmakers took the first significant step towards that goal when HB 649 successfully emerged from the PA House Gaming Oversight Committee on Wednesday. The bill will now go to the house floor for a full vote.
This is the first time that an online gambling bill has emerged from committee in PA, and it did so easily. The bill passed by an 18-8 vote with no amendments added to the bill at this time.
Significant Step for PA iGaming Hopes
The emergence of HB 649 from committee is significantly different from when AB 431 emerged from committee in California. AB 431 lacked substance and still had to be completed before it could ever come to a vote. HB 649 is a viable bill that could be passed in its current form should lawmakers agree on key points.
The Poker Player’s Alliance praised the emergence of HB 649 from committee, stating, “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.”
“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.”
What Can HB 649 Bring to Pennsylvania?
Looking at the bill in its current form, it is believed that the casinos could generate anywhere from $121 – $129 million in the first year. This includes both online poker and casino games. Online poker could generate up to $45 million of that figure.
The state could also receive up to $88 million in revenue from licensing fees during the first year. Online gambling providers in the state will have to pay $8 million to obtain a license while significant vendors will pay $2 million. Out of the 12 casinos in the state, only the Sands Bethlehem is expected to abstain from participating in online gambling.
Estimates can change based on market conditions, those allowed to participate, etc. Presently, the bill does not contain a bad actor clause and there have been few objections raised regarding PokerStars participating in PA iGaming.
Bill May Get Attached to State Budget
Things couldn’t be better for iGaming as there is also a chance that HB 649 could be attached to the 2016 state budget. The budget is entering its fifth month of impasse and online gambling is one method that is being considered to help fund next year’s budget.
Attaching this bill to the state budget seems the most logical step at this point as lawmakers are scrambling to come up with creative ways to fund the government without digging into taxpayer pockets.
With the tremendous upside for the state in terms of revenue, we cannot see a reason that online gambling will fail to pass at this point. It now all boils down to what form of a bill that legislators will settle on and what method they will use to pass the bill. Pennsylvania will be the fourth state to legalize online poker in the United States and now the pressure is on California to follow suit.