Since 2011, lawmakers in Pennsylvania have toyed with the idea of regulating internet poker and casino gambling. Up until now, there has been underwhelming support among legislators to move forward with such a plan. On April 16, 2015, the House Committee on Gaming Oversight will hold a public hearing to discuss the topic once again, and see if lawmaker’s opinions on the matter have changed.
Pennsylvania is currently ranked the second highest revenue grossing state in the US gambling industry, having recently taken that title from New Jersey; (Nevada being number one, of course). But thanks to added competition from neighboring states, casino revenue has been diminishing in the Keystone State with each passing year.
With that in mind, lawmakers have been exploring ways to reinvigorate gambling revenue. Land-based expansion is always an option, but if there’s not enough interest from patrons, it could end up costing the state a lot more than it gains. The one option staring them in the face for the last few years has ultimately been the legalization, regulation and taxation of internet poker and casino gambling.
The public hearing, entitled Internet Gaming and Mobile Gaming, will begin at 9:30am on Thursday, April 16th in Room G50 of the Irvis Building (pictured right) located at 450 Commonwealth Ave in Harrisburg, PA. Heading up the meeting will be the House Committee on Gaming Oversight’s Republican Chair, Rep. John Payne and in the Democratic Chair, Rep. Nick Kotik. Also a member of the committee is Rep. Tina Davis, responsible for the introduction of a 2013 internet poker bill known as HB 2315.
Prior to the public hearing, a series of discussions will also be held that could impact April’s internet poker debate in Pennsylvania. One of the key meetings will take place on Wednesday, March 18, when the committee visits Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino in Chester at 9:00am, followed by a stop at Sugar House Casino in Philadelphia at 3:00pm, to discuss “How to Keep PA’s Casinos Competitive”. The addition of internet poker, slots and table games will most certainly arise there.
Then on Wednesday, April 1st, the Gaming Oversight Committee will convene again to deliberate on the topic of “Definitions of Games of Skill vs. Games of Chance”. To the majority of players, poker should be classified as a game of skill, but it is of course the legal definition in Pennsylvania that residents must abide by.
Is there Hope for Internet Poker in Pennsylvania?
The attitude towards internet poker in Pennsylvania may have changed drastically since this time last year. The state commissioned a study on gaming expansion in 2013 that was published in May of 2014, and the results indicated that branching out into internet gambling had the highest potential for revenue growth in the Keystone State.
A month after the results of the study came out, Pennsylvania held a Senate hearing to discuss iGaming. Support for internet poker had grown immensely since 2013, but was in no way unanimous. Then when Senator Edwin Erickson introduced an internet poker bill just two weeks after the hearing—and two weeks before the close of the session—it was too little too late to gain any momentum.
Realistically, it’s hard to say whether there’s any chance for Pennsylvania to pass internet poker regulations in 2015. But it is pretty clear that the odds are steadily growing in favor of iGaming.