Pennsylvania Online Gambling Bill Made Official
It is official. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed the gambling expansion bill passed last week that, in part, legalizes and regulates online poker and casino games. Wolf had expressed some concerns about the broad expansions outlined in the bill and whether or not they might infringe upon current gambling operators and their revenue, but he did sign the bill on Monday, October 30.
Wolf says he’s signed the massive gambling expansion bill passed last week.
— Marc Levy (@timelywriter) October 30, 2017
Whirlwind of Activity
Poker enthusiasts and players had been watching Pennsylvania toy with online gambling for years but more than ever in the past few months as the state’s budget crisis lingered. The gambling expansion bill had long been proposed as one of the solutions to the budget deficit and a way to generate new and ongoing revenue for the state, but video gaming terminals (VGTs) were a sticking point. And with some insisting on VGTs and others staunchly opposed, it appeared the issue might derail the entire gambling bill once again.
However, everything changed last week. As another deadline approached for the Pennsylvania legislature to reach deals and fix the budget mess, online gambling came up again with the rest of the bill. It was debated, set aside, and debated more. A compromise for VGTs was added to the discussions to offer a limited rollout of the machines on a trial basis. And by the middle of last week, rumors abounded that the bill was close to passage.
The Senate passed the bill on Wednesday, and the House took it up that night but ran too late to hold a vote. On Thursday morning, more debate finally led to a vote, and the bill passed. It went to the governor’s desk for a signature or veto.
Wolf Allays Worries
The governor had 10 days to sign or veto the bill, or simply take no action and allow it to become law without his signature. There was some concern that Wolf took issue with parts of the bill, but it was widely anticipated that he would sign it.
On Monday, October 30, Wolf signed the bill. As the Washington Post reported, he was not “enthusiastic” about expanding gambling, “but he entertained the idea in deals with a Republican-controlled legislature that saw it as a better option to balance the state’s persistent deficits than a tax increase.”
Wolf spoke to reporters after signing the legislation into law. “There’s been a lot of pressure from a lot of places in the commonwealth to actually expand this,” he said, “and we do need some recurring revenue. Again, the goal has been all along to do what’s prudent, not cannibalize existing gambling revenue coming to the state, and I think what we’re settling on will actually do that.”
I still almost didn't believe Wolf actually signed the PA online gambling bill just because he said he did. Now it's official: pic.twitter.com/4emjVbOlbG
— Dustin Gouker (@DustinGouker) October 30, 2017
The bill will gather dust through the holiday season. There is a 60-day waiting period for the new gambling expansion law to take effect. That date will then be at the very end of December, while legislators and most state workers are already off work for the last weekend of the year and preparing to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
When everyone returns back to work in January, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will need to develop and distribute regulations for the new industry.
Meanwhile, any interested licensed land-based casino may apply for a license to operate online poker, table games, and slots. A license fee for one of those is set at $4 million, but a bundle deal is offered at $10 million for all three. Gaming entities located outside of Pennsylvania can also apply, but deference will be given to in-state casinos for the first 120 days of the application period.
The Gaming Control Board will have further guidance for licensees, interested participants, and the general public in January, and within the first month or two of 2018, the process thus far will indicate what to expect. Some analysts say that the process leading to launch of the first sites should take less than the nine months noted in New Jersey, meaning it will be possible for online poker and casino games to be available sometime in the summer months for players in Pennsylvania.
Many variables can change that timeline, but more information in January and February will narrow the timeline greatly.
— Poker Alliance (@ppapoker) October 30, 2017
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