Even with support from the Pennsylvania House and the Senate, skeptics weren’t sure what Gov. Tom Wolf would do with H 271, the state’s sweeping gaming expansion.
After much tweaking and amending, the Pennsylvania Senate approved the bill 31-19, legalizing online poker and gambling throughout the state. On Oct. 26, the House approved the bill by a vote of 109-72. The governor signed the bill into law shortly before the 10-day waiting period expired, on Oct. 30.
Pennsylvania is the fourth state to legalize online poker and casino games, following New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada. The government expects additional revenues brought in by this bill are around $250 million.
A key sticking point for Wolf was to make sure that this new revenue did not cannibalize Pennsylvania’s existing gaming industry.
New forms of gaming coming to Keystone State
The bill legalizes online slot machines, online table games, and online poker throughout Pennsylvania. It also regulates daily fantasy sports, sports betting (if federally legalized), online lottery, video gaming terminals at truck stops, and tablet gaming in airports.
Companies like FanDuel and DraftKings were all smiles about the new bill, even considering the tax rate of 15 percent is on the higher end for companies operating daily fantasy sports. The initial license fee is $10,000.
Truckers and truck stop operators seem to have mixed reviews regarding the legalized video gaming terminals. While they would welcome the additional revenue and the occasional break for entertainment, many caution against the dangers of gambling and the lack of space to accommodate any new gaming customers.
It also authorizes up to ten satellite casinos, which are micro-footprint gambling centers set up in lower population zones. Penn National made it clear it is worried that these smaller gaming centers will take business away from its strategic geographic positions.
Additionally, the bill changes Category 3 licenses to remove the membership fee for a higher one-time fee.
In Wolf’s words…
Wolf spoke in blanket terms regarding H 271.
“There’s been a lot of pressure from a lot of places in the Commonwealth to actually expand this. We do need some recurring revenue so the goal all along has been to do what is prudent without cannibalizing existing gambling revenues coming to the state. And I think what we are settling on will actually do that.”
While never taking an outspoken stance on the issue, his words regarding Pennsylvania online gaming have always been consistent. His message seems to be that as long as it doesn’t disrupt Pennsylvania’s current gaming industry, online gaming makes perfect sense as a means of adding revenue to the budget.
Not everyone is thrilled about PA gambling changes
Still, opponents of the bill are skeptical of the money it can provide, as well as the claim that it won’t hurt existing business.
Of course, online gaming expansion is just a small part of the larger picture. When the entire state budget is on the line, of course there are going to be some heated arguments.
Maybe the biggest red flag includes the plan to issue $1.5 billion in bonds to cover the remaining shortfall. But that puts online gambling into perspective: It’s one of the best opportunities Pennsylvania has to balance its budget.
Time for legal online casinos in PA has come
Regardless of the political reasons, it is evident that online gaming makes sense for Pennsylvania. Proactively welcoming these online business models to Pennsylvania puts the state in a great position to increase revenue in the future, should the demand of the market dictate that.
In fact, considering that Pennsylvania has the second-highest gambling revenue after Nevada, it would be foolish to deny online gaming companies an opportunity to operate in the state.
Image credit: George Sheldon / Shutterstock.com