Legal Internet Poker Bill Introduced to Pennsylvania State Senate

A bill which would legalize online poker in Pennsylvania was introduced to the legislature yesterday. State Senators Edwin Erickson (R) and Bob Mensch (R) co-sponsored the bill.

The new law would make online poker sites, if they obtained a license from the state. Several obstacles to licensing would exist, though a provisions were added to the bill which would allow for online casinos later, as well as interstate poker.

Better Chances Than 2013 Online Gambling Bill

Several gaming journalists have wondered if the new bill will fare any better than one introduced in 2013 by State Rep. Tina Davis, which failed to move through the legislature.

Analysts say the $1.2 billion deficit the state faces could be the deciding factor. A study estimated that the state could collect $120 million a year in gambling revenues, which would make up 10% of the deficit without enacting unpopular new taxes. In other words, an online gambling bill is an easy way out for the politicians.

Concerns Addressed in SB 1386

Some of the concerns voiced a year ago might look different after seeing how New Jersey online gambling has progressed. The ability to screen for illegal gamblers was a major concern. New Jersey’s experience since November 2013 shows that technology allows for the barring from play of people outside the state. The technology also allows websites to bar underage gamblers, a major concern for parents groups.

The language of the new bill addresses those issues directly. The text of Erickson’s SB 1386 reads, “Developments in technology and recent legal decisions have created an opportunity to legalize interactive poker as a means to further enhance and complement the benefits delivered by casino gaming, licensed facilities and the communities in which they operate.

Interstate Poker Compact

One stipulation allows for a major expansion of the scope of Pennsylvania’s online poker sites. Licensed websites would be allowed to participate in interstate gaming, if Pennsylvania signed onto a interstate gaming compact.

At present, Nevada and Delaware have an iPoker compact, allowing them to access each others’ player databases. The compact allows for other states to join, simply by agreeing to the terms already in the bargain. Pennsylvania would become the largest state in such a compact (at present), making it a power broker in any developing interstate association.

Bad Actor Clause

A particularly targeted “bad actor” clause is likely to be trouble for PokerStars, even though it recently was purchased by a new ownership group, Amaya Gaming out of Canada. In states like Nevada, California, and New Jersey, state regulators have found (or discussed) ways to bar PokerStars, stipulating that gaming companies which have issues with the federal government cannot obtain licenses.

The law in Pennsylvania would ban any poker company which continued to accept US players after the imposition of the UIGEA in 2006. Under such statutes, PokerStars would be barred from the state in a way that seems to have no wiggle room.

Fees and Tax Revenues

The online gaming license fee is particularly steep, compared to states like New York and New Jersey. The cost for obtaining a license would be a one-time $5 million fee.

Anti-Online Gambling – Mario Scavello

The two Republican state senators do not represent all Republicans on the state level. In February 2014, State Representative Mario Scavello of Monroe County introduced a bill which would have made online gambling in Pennsylvania not only illegal, but punishable. The first time a gambler was caught, they would receive a $300 fine. Afterward, they would receive a combination of fines and jail time.

Such a law flies in the face of U.S. gambling history. Though the UIGEA banned online gambling in the United States, no online gambler has ever been fined or imprisoned for such an offense. Instead, it it customary to punish the operators and their support network, which makes such gambling possible. Politicians, prosecutors, and law enforcement personnel realize it would be impractical and unpopular to jail residents.

About Cliff Spiller

Cliff Spiller has been an online writer for 14 years. He worked for Small World Marketing for a decade, where he covered topics like gaming, sports, movies, and how-to guides. Since 2014, he has blogged about US and international gambling news on BestOnlineCasinos.com, USPokerSites.com, and LegalUSPokerSites.com

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