Days after the Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee hosted a positive hearing on potential online gaming expansion, a new bill has emerged in the Keystone State, but this time the sponsor and cosponsors are trying to prohibit online gaming.

This new bill, HB 1013, introduced on April 20 by Representative Thomas Murt and cosponsored by seven other lawmakers expressly prohibits Pennsylvania from regulating online gambling, and makes no qualms about its intention as the memo reads: “Banning Internet Gambling in Pennsylvania.”

The bill’s text reads in part:

“The board shall not promulgate rules and regulations allowing any form of Internet gambling.”

The bill was referred to the House Gaming Oversight Committee after being introduced.

It’s unclear who is pushing for the bill behind the scenes, but it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if we were to find out Sheldon Adelson’s fingerprints are on the legislation.

New year, new effort at PA online gambling prohibition

A somewhat similar bill was floated last year by Representative Mario Scavello.

Scavello’s bill from 2014 would not only have prohibited online gambling, but it sought to make it a criminal offense, punishable by stiff fines and/or jail time.

A first offense would result in a fine of up to $300 fine and up to 90 days in jail. A second offense could be punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail.

You read that correctly, Rep. Scavello thought it would be a good idea to send people to prison for playing online poker, because you know, it’s not like we have a prison overcrowding problem.

Scavello’s archaic bill was supported by Sheldon Adelson’s anti-online gambling lobby group, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG), who called the bill a “step in the right direction,” in a statement by CSIG-cochairs, former New York Governor George Pataki, former Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln, and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb:

“We call on the Pennsylvania Legislature to vote in favor of this bill and send a powerful message that online gaming has no place in American society.”

Scavello’s bill was roundly criticized for its overreach, and eventually left for dead.

While HB 1013 doesn’t go nearly as far, it will almost certainly suffer the same fate.

Here is why.

Spitting into the wind

HB 1013 is unlikely to gain traction for two reasons:

  1. The momentum in Pennsylvania is all on the side of legalization and regulation.
  2. The leadership in the Gaming Oversight Committee is clearly in favor of regulation.

It is certainly not a given that Pennsylvania will pass online gaming legislation in 2015, but it appears to be a case of when not if.

Three different legislators have already introduced bills that would legalize online gaming in the state.

They are:

  1. John Payne’s HB 649, a comprehensive bill that would legalize and regulate online casino and poker;
  2. Nick Micarelli’s HB 695 – a poker-only bill with strict Bad Actor language that goes against the zeitgeist;
  3. Tina Davis’s HB 920, which seems to be little more than a redundant, watered down version of Rep. Payne’s legislation.

The GO Committee is also in the midst of a number of hearings on online gambling. If the next hearing is as positive as the most recent one, HB 1013 will be filed in the large blue file cabinet with waste management emblazoned on the side.

The Gaming Oversight Committee passed a resolution (HR 140) which was also introduced by Chairman Payne. The resolution calls on Congress to oppose Sheldon Adelson’s Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) bill, and/or any legislation that would prohibit states from legalizing intrastate online gaming.

The resolution easily passed by an 18-8 margin – a clear indication of where the Pennsylvania GO Committee stands on the regulation/prohibition debate.

Finally, considering that House Gaming Oversight Committee Chair John Payne and Democratic Chair Nick Kotik are both pushing for regulation, it’s unlikely they will allow HB 1013 to move forward in the GO Committee.

So you’re saying there’s a chance…

The chances this latest attempt to prohibit online gambling passes are almost nonexistent.

In fact, the bill will likely receive nary a mention in the coming weeks and months as the talk remains focused on expanding into the online gambling sector in the Keystone State.

The appetite for state-level prohibition, particularly in Pennsylvania, is simply not there.