Pennsylvania House Committee Passes Online Gambling Bill HB 649
On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Gaming Oversight Committee approved HB 649, an online-gambling measure, on an 18-8 vote. HB 649 was sponsored by Gaming Oversight Committee chairman John Payne earlier this year, and was the subject of several committee hearings before its passage today.
HB 649 cleared the committee vote in its original form, after one attempt to poison the bll via an unrelated gambling was voted down by the committee. The bill now moves on to the main floor of the Pennsylvania House, and if it passes a full vote there, would face a similar route through the PA Senate and on to the desk of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf for signing into law. One alternate route for HB 649 remains open, that being possible incorporation into Pennsylvania’s omnibus budget bill for the upcoming 2016 fiscal year; that budget remains the Pennsylvania legislature’s primary focus at the present time.
Assuming it remains as a standalone bill, and isn’t poisoned or defeated by opposing forces, HB 649 would authorize the state’s 12 existing land-based casinos to extend their services into the online sphere, offering several forms of gambling, including poker, to Pennsylvania residents. One of those 12 casinos, oddly, is one of the fiercest opponents of the bill, that being the Sands Bethlehem property in northeastern Pennsylvania, owned and operated by the Sheldon Adelson-controlled Las Vegas Sands Corporation.
Adelson has already hired several lobbyists to work against HB 649 in a process that included the mailing of false research claims designed to alter public opinion against the bill, mailed from near one of Adelson’s Reno, NV lobbying fronts. Today’s passage from committee of an unaltered HB 649 represents a defeat for Adelson, though he’s likely to renew his efforts against the bill when it receives full Pennsylvania House consideration.
Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas issued a brief congratulatory statement regarding HB 649’s passage, which excepting the passage of a “shell” bill in California, represents the first legislative progress for a state-level online-gambling bill in the US in over two years.
“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 Pappas. “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.”
Added Pappas, “New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware are already successfully providing their residents with a safe and regulated online gaming market accountable to the players, regulators, and law enforcement, and now it’s Pennsylvania’s turn to give their citizens this right. In addition, a regulated market will introduce new revenue for the state and create local jobs. H.B. 649 is a win-win opportunity that Pennsylvania’s lawmakers can not afford to miss.”
No dates have yet been set for Pennsylvania’s full House to conduct hearings or otherwise consider the bill.