Last month, members of the Pennsylvania House of Representative voted on a bill that would have legalized internet gambling in PA, as well as providing expansion rules to install slot machines at certain land-based destinations, including bars, taverns, off-track betting sites and 6 of the state’s international airports. That vote failed, but now the House is tallying the results to see if there’s enough support to re-examine the bill and take a second vote.
The bill in question is HB 649, sponsored by Rep. John Payne, Chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee. In its original context, the bill was designed to legalize and regulate internet gambling in the state, permitting existing licensed casinos team up with iGaming software developers, payment processors and geolocation service providers to operate intrastate online casino and poker games.
However, the bill’s text has been altered dramatically over the course of 2016, now promoting the expansion of slot machines in land-based establishments where such forms of gambling are currently prohibited, like airports, bars and off-track betting sites. HB 649 even includes language that could impose definitions for daily fantasy sports (DFS) in Pennsylvania.
Two Sides, One Tall Fence
Those who support the internet gambling and slots expansion bill argue that it will generate millions of dollar in much needed revenue, helping to supplement a gaping hole of an estimated $1.8 billion in the state budget. But influence from some casino operators, who say slots outside casinos will cannibalize their business, has helped swayed the majority towards opposition.
Now, with the deadline for the state budget fast approaching, House Representative are counting up the previous votes to determine whether HB 649 is worth a second look – and a second vote.
House Republicans said yesterday that, if a new vote were to be held on the internet gambling and expansion bill, it could happen as early as next week.
The biggest hurdle will be convincing the bill’s opposition that generating extra revenue for the administration would be better facilitated by expanding the state’s gambling industry, despite staunch resistance from some of the state’s casinos, like Sands Bethlehem – owned by Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp.
Unfortunately, being such an enormous industry that already contributes hundreds of million to the annual budget, their influence is great. Adelson’s anti-online gambling crusade has been ongoing and well funded by his billionaire bankroll for the last few years.
The majority of PA casinos were fully on board with the idea of regulating internet gambling, so long as operations were restricted to existing land-based casinos. When the concept of permitting slot machines outside those casinos made its way into the text of HB 649, their support began to falter.
Ultimately, the future of gambling in Pennsylvania, online or otherwise, lies in the hands of elected public officials. If the House does choose to hold a second vote on HB 649, and if that vote does turn out to be a positive one, the bill would then move to the table of the Senate, and from there, the Governor’s desk.