The online poker community in America got good news on Wednesday. Sure, it's just a small step, but at least it's the first step forward on the state level in about two years.
Pennsylvania introduced a house bill that would allow its 12 land-based brick and mortar casinos to offer state residents online gaming, including online poker. HB 649 passed a Pennsylvania Gaming Oversight Committee (by margin of 18-8). Before HB 649 can become a law, the online gaming bill will now be voted on by the State House, before it moves onto the floor of the State Senate where they will vote on it, or potentially tweak it. If there are no changes and the Senate passes the bill, then it will be up to the Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, to sign the bill into law.
The state of Pennsylvania is running a budget deficit close to $2 billion. The 2016 state budget has yet to be finalized and is over four months late. Online gaming revenue will certainly temporarily help solve the state's cash flow problems. According to a recent economic impact study, HB 649 is projected to generate approximately $38 million in annual revenue.
Currently, online poker on American soil is only available in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. If you add up all the people who live in those three states… you'll barely come close to Pennsylvania's population. With nearly 13 million residents, Pennsylvania would become the largest state to offer online poker in America.
All but one of the 12 major casinos in Pennsylvania are on board with HB 649. The only hold out? You guessed it right… Sheldon Adelson's Sands Casino in Bethlehem. Don't get me started about Adelson's life-long shadiness and his malevolent anti-online poker bias. It appears that Adelson and his Nanny State CSIG (a.k.a. Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling) is the only obstacle potentially preventing online poker's introduction to Pennsylvania.
Haley Hintze summed it up best in her article for Flush Draw, “Adelson has already hired several lobbyists to work against HB 649 in a process that included the mailing of false research claims designed to alter public opinion against the bill, mailed from near one of Adelson's Reno, NV lobbying fronts. Today's passage from committee of an unaltered HB 649 represents a defeat for Adelson, though he's likely to renew his efforts against the bill when it receives full Pennsylvania House consideration.”