New Pennsylvania Senate Online Poker Bill Introduced

Updated: March 7th, 2017 by Dev Ops

A new bill authorizing online poker and other forms of online gambling has been introduced in Pennsylvania’s Senate, as introductory hearings on a complimentary bill in the state’s House have brought substance to the debate.  The new measure, Senate Bill 477 (SB 477), is nearly identical to the prior-introduced House measure, HB 392.

SB 477 was officially introduced yesterday and only surfaced via publication on the Pennsylvania Senate’s legislation-tracking site today.  The bill was introduced by four Republican State Senators: Thomas Killion (the bill’s primary sponsor); Guy Reschenthaler; Camera Bartolotta; and Patrick Stefano.  SB 477 was immediately referred to the Pennsylvania Senate’s committee on Community, Economic and Recreational Development.

No hearings have yet been set for debate of SB 477, and it’s likely that none will be set until and unless the matching House bill, HB 392, clears its initial committee hurdle.  It’s also not clear that this is the measure supported by the PA Senate online-poker backers of years past, such as one hinted at by Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D).

Here are some of the key points of SB 477 (which can also be found in HB 392).  The measure, if passed, would:

Fix the local share assessment issue by requiring all casinos, except Category 3 casinos, to pay a $10 million fee to host municipalities;

  • Regulate and tax iGaming;
  • Impose consumer protections on and tax online fantasy sports operators;
  • Allow gaming tablets in international airports;
  • Remove the Category 3 casino amenity requirement;
  • Streamline non-gaming vendor registration requirements;
  • Permit gaming manufactures to utilize private laboratories to test gaming devices;
  • Authorize the PGCB (Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board) to create new regulations to allow for new types of slot machines;
  • Increase license, permit and registration renewal periods;
  • Allow multi-state linkage of slot machines to increase jackpots; and,
  • Require uniform advertisement of the state’s problem-gaming assistance number.

The bill’s language regarding the “Category 3 casino amenity requirement, along with the imposition of the initial $10 million license fee, continue to jointly stand as the hot-button topics for debate.  Pennsylvania’s prior law requiring the state’s Category 3 casinos (which generally includes the largest gaming facilities), was found to be unconstitutional after a legal challenge, and the state has been struggling to find a way to continue mandating that tax payment without again running afoul of other laws.  Most of the state’s casinos have been voluntarily paying that tax in the interim, anyway, with the notable exception of the LVSands and Sheldon Adelson-owned and operated Sands Bethlehem.

Over on the House side, there’s been an interesting development in early hearings.  Another of the state’s casinos, Parx, has come out against online gambling, thus joining Sands Bethlehem in that stance.  The two large Pennsylvania casinos’ opposition remains a concern to any bill’s possible passage, though the state’s other 11 casino operators are either strongly or moderately in favor of such a bill’s passage.

The ongoing House hearings highlighted that divide.  On the one side, Parx execs filed a written opposition to the bill as part of their testimony, even though they acknowledged that Parx would join the state’s online-gambling market if such a bill was passed.

On the pro-online side, Caesars Entertainment introduced hard data from its operations in neighboring New Jersey to show that online gambling does not cannibalize brick-and-mortar casino operations.  The fearmongering regarding such possible cannibalization has long been a bullet-point claim of Adelson and LV Sands, and was echoed in the Parx Casino testimony.

However, Caesars was able to show facts and figures to the contrary, including the important revelation that 80% of its online New Jersey customers were in fact new gamblers.  Caesars also operates one of the other 11 Pennsylvania casinos, Harrah’s Philadelphia in suburban Chester.

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