Pennsylvania Online Gambling Bill Clears Two Senate Committee Votes

Pennsylvania Online-Gambling Forces Regroup After Amendments’ Defeat

It’s regrouping time in Pennsylvania for backers of a plan to authorize and regulate online gambling in the state, following the defeat in a full PA Assembly vote of two separate amendments authorizing language to be added to the state’s primary budget measure.  That seems simple enough, if yet another defeat for the growth of regulated online poker in the US.  However, due to a certain level of legislative confusion, there’s still a chance that an online-poker bill could pass in the Keystone State sometime soon.

pennsylvania-stampFlushdraw readers will remember that the HB 649 measure introduced by State Rep. John Payne was being pitched, before this week’s budget discussions, as an independent bill.  However, that ended up being converted into one of at least two different gambling-related amendments being considered during the budget talks amid the consideration of a different and nominally unrelated PA gambling measure, HB 2925.

That’s where the trouble began, when the amendment incorporating Payne’s online-poker bill language ended up being confused with another gambling-expansion proposal, one dealing with the possible legalization of video gaming terminals (VGTs) throughout the state.  Two amendments were floated: Both of them included all of Payne’s online-poker language, but one of the two co-opted the language by tossing in an extra couple of paragraphs calling for the legalization of the VGTs, in preference to a carveout in the original Payne amendment which would have allowed slot machines at Pennsylvania’s airports and pari-mutuel facilities.

Making matters worse, even though the VGT-laden amendment was really a changing of the bill to please an entirely new set of Pennsylvania’s business interests — meaning tavern and bar owners — the second amendment was also listed as being authored by Payne, even though the VGT stuff was inserted by State Rep. Mark Mustio.

More confusion.  And, thus, more “nay” votes.

The Mustio co-opted version promoted VGTs in the state’s bars went down first, by a 122-66 count.  This vote featured the incongruous site of Payne voting against what was listed as his own amendment.  Payne’s original amendment — the one that was really his — did a little bit better, losing by -only- 107-81.  Yet a defeat is a defeat.

Still more confusion, including over how Payne remained listed as the author of both amendment versions, which several of the state reps who were voted cited as one of the reasons they voted against anything that was being offered.  The confusion was sorted out, in a matter of speaking, and both amendments were given a second chance — a “reconsideration” vote to be brought up again in June, when final budget negotiations in Pennsylvania will occur.  Both amendments, the real Payne offering and the faux one, passed that portion of the vote with ease.

That still leaves the two competing pro-gambling forces trying to find some sort of mutual ground.  Most of the state’s licensed casinos, with the notable exception of the Las Vegas Sands / Sheldon Adelson-owned Sands Bethlehem, want the online gambling approved.  The tavern owners, though, would get no slice of that pie, and so they instead want the right to have VGTs in their businesses, as has been agreed to in many other US states.

The two pro-gambling factions have only a few weeks to find common ground and overcome the state’s anti-gambling and anti-online-gambling forces, which want all of these bills buried.  A good part of the funding behind that “anti” push comes from the hypocritical Adelson, who has funded ad campaigns in the state in an ongoing effort to defeat Payne’s measure.

Pennsylvania may still become the fourth US state to approve online poker.  However, if that approval is to occur in 2016, time is running short.

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