Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf Signs Online-Gambling Regulatory Bill

Updated: November 2nd, 2017 by Haley Hintze

It’s official: Pennsylvania will soon become the fourth US state to formally allow its citizens to play real-money online poker, following this week’s signing of an omnibus budget measure by PA Governor Tom Wolf that includes a broad gambling expansion in the state.

Pennsylvania’s 13 casinos (one in Philadelphia was just approved) will have first dibs on the online-gambling licenses which will be offered under the state’s expanded gambling offerings. And yes, that includes online poker, thus adding Pennsylvania to the short list of US states that authorize and regulate the activity. It’s been nearly five years since Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey opened up the regulated US online-poker market, though Pennsylvania’s approval is every bit as important: It’s very likely to trigger a second wave of online-poker-friendly US states that will likewise join the party over the next couple of years.

Pennsylvanians will have access to several other new forms of gambling as well. The online casino games will also be available in limited areas of Pennsylvania’s airports, while another online gambling activity, daily fantasy sports, was also approved. Pennsylvania is the 17th US state to formally approve DFS play.

The state’s own lottery offerings will also be made available online, joining other populous states such as New York and Illinois in that regard, and though the state’s powerful tavern lobby failed in its effort to have video gaming terminal (VGT) gambling approved for the state’s taverns, there’s at least a small step in that direction as well: Certain truck stops throughout the state will be allowed to set up small gaming rooms — mini-casinos, if you will — offering select video-gambling offerings.

The state even approved sports betting at authorized facilities, though that would only happen if the current federal PASPA ban on the activity is overturned. Such a reversal for that ’80s-era law might come in the ongoing Supreme Court challenge brought against it by neighboring New Jersey. That PASPA battle is due for a hearing in December and will be ruled upon in 2018.

It’s all a bit heady for pro-gambling Pennsylvanians, who have battled for years to bring the state into the e-gambling era. The first real-money online poker sites in the state should appear in the spring of 2018; the bill’s language allows for the expanded gaming opportunities to go into effect withing 60 days, but it unlikely that the complete regulatory framework, including license approval and game testing, can happen that quickly.

Many of the forces that pushed for online-poker approval in Pennsylvania celebrated both the passage of the compromise budget bill (H 271) and Governor Wolf’s signing of the measure, which made it official. Along that line, the Pennsylvania effort may have been the first real success for the Poker Players Alliance, which put in a significant amount of effort to make the pro-poker side of the debate known to the state’s legislators.

“This is a major victory for consumers who, for years, have asked the state to step up and provide meaningful protections,” said the PPA’s executive director, John Pappas, after H 271 passed both houses of Pennsylvania’s state legislature but before Governor Wolf signed it into law. “The iGaming law will also help create new growth opportunities for the Commonwealth’s bricks and mortar casinos while providing needed revenue for the state budget.”

Pappas attributed some of the increased warmth toward online-gambling approval in Harrisburg to the success the activity has enjoyed in neighboring New Jersey, where it has added a steadily increasing stream of tax revenue to the state’s coffers. Said Pappas, ““The experience in New Jersey has been nothing short of exceptional. iGaming is responsibly operated by licensed casinos and the technologies they deploy ensure adherence to strict regulatory standards. Moreover, the industry is growing and so are tax revenues. Pennsylvania is now in the driver seat to do even better.”

Pappas did note that the tax rate on internet-based slots in Pennsylvania as approved under the new law (54%), is far more than New Jersey’s 17%, and may in fact retard growth in that sector. However, that appears to be a matter that can fine-tuned down the road, if and when it can be demonstrated that too high a tax rate on that activity actually reduces the state’s revenue. For now, though, getting a regulated market opened in Pennsylvania is the big victory that all poker players and online-gambling fans should be celebrating.

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