The Pennsylvania House will have three online gaming bills to choose from following the introduction of an online gaming bill by Representative Tina Davis. The Pennsylvania House of Representative Gaming Oversight Committee will also host two online gambling hearings in the coming weeks, one on April 16 and a second one on May 6.

Davis is a known commodity on this issue as she was an early adopter of legalizing online gaming in PA. Davis first took up the cause back in 2013, but despite her history on this issue, the bill that is likely to be acted upon is the one introduced by Gaming Oversight Chairman John Payne.

Representative Payne and HB 649

Payne’s bill (HB 649) is good reflection of the current landscape, as it doesn’t contain bad actor language and expressly allows for interstate compacts. Additionally, as the GO Committee Chair, and with the support of GO Committee Democratic Co-Chair Nick Kotik, the bill has top-down support from both sides of the aisle.

In addition to the details noted above, Payne’s bill calls for the following:

  • Online gaming sites to be run by brick and mortar casinos licensed in Pennsylvania.
  • $5 million licensing fee for operators and $1 million for “significant” vendors.
  • A 14 percent tax on gross gaming revenue.

While similar in nature, the other two bills that have been introduced have significant flaws.

Representative Davis and HB 920

Davis’s bill is a carbon copy of her 2013 bill and is simply too short on details to be a contender, especially when you consider the crux of Davis’s bill (HB 920) is the same as the more detailed Payne bill.

This shouldn’t be an issue, as Davis, who is also a member of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, cosponsored Representative Payne’s bill.

Put this all together and it seems highly unlikely Davis’s bill will be the one that moves forward.

Representative Miccarelli and HB 695

In contrast, Representative Nick Miccarelli’s bill (HB 695) calls for a starkly different path forward for PA online gaming.

Unfortunately, the bill doesn’t really reflect the online gaming landscape of 2015. The bill would legalize online poker only and contains strict bad actor language that would prohibit PokerStars from applying for a license.

Like Davis, Miccarelli is also a cosponsor of Payne’s HB 649.

Last year this would have been a perfectly reasonable bill (Caesars was lobbying for just such a bill in 2014), but the consensus opinion in the industry in 2015 is online poker by itself will not produce enough revenue for the state to bother regulating, and with the new alliance between Caesars and PokerStars, the calls for strict bad actor language have diminished.

Miccarelli’s bill is a legitimate alternative to the legislation introduced by Representative Payne, but it seems unlikely to gain any traction due to its restrictive nature.

April 16 hearing

On April 16 the House Gaming Oversight Committee will, for the first time in 2015, host a hearing focused completely on online gambling.

The hearing is part of a host of hearings (dealing with online gambling, skill versus chance, and the 2014 small games of chance bill) scheduled by GO Chairman Payne in what he calls an effort to keep Pennsylvania’s gaming industry healthy and competitive.

Online gaming has already been discussed this session, as a pair of informal hearings on gaming held at Harrah’s Philadelphia and Sugarhouse Casino on March 18 turned into impromptu online gaming hearings in their own right. You can watch one of the hearings here.

A second hearing, dubbed an informational hearing on online gaming (the hearing also tried to define games of skill versus games of chance) was held on April 1. You can also watch that hearing here.

According to the legislative calendar, the April 16 hearing will also be broadcast.

May 6 hearing added

Yet another online gaming hearing has been added to the legislative calendar on May 6. It’s unclear at this time if the hearing will be broadcast at this time.

The series of hearings seems to be a strong indicator of Pennsylvania’s interest in online gaming expansion.

Payne’s plan

Representative Payne stated that his goal is to gather all the facts and then present them to the legislature:

“My job is to introduce legislation in the Gaming Committee that we can present to our leadership team in May and say ‘If we’re serious about this, and we do Internet gaming it would generate this much revenue; fantasy sports this much; fix the small games bill it would do this much; something in private clubs it would do this much.’”

These hearings could culminate with one of the above mentioned online gambling bills passing the GO Committee and possibly being called to the floor for a vote. Another path forward might be for the bill to be swallowed into the state’s budget, as it has tax implications.

It would seem that with his online gaming bill and the slew of hearings he has called, Payne’s plan to keep Pennsylvania gaming healthy and competitive is on the right track.