Review of Pennsylvania’s Three Competing Online House Gambling Bills

Tina Davis recently proposed an online gaming bill in the Pennsylvania House of Repesentatives. House Bill 920 brings the number of gaming bills in the state to three. John Payne and Nick Miccarelli filed online gambling bills earlier this year.

Below is a review of all three bills being proposed. The author of each bill is quoted, so readers can hear in the lawmaker’s own words why they believe their proposal is best.

John Payne’s Bill – HB 649

John Payne, the Chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, has sponsored a gaming bill that would legalize online casinos and poker rooms. Chairman Payne’s bill would legalize online casinos and online poker sites, unlike Nick Miccarelli’s poker-only bill.

To John Payne (pictured right), leaving one prominent form of online gambling unregulated misses the point of such legislation in the first place. He said, “My mission statement is to keep gaming in general healthy…Internet gaming is already here. I’m not trying to expand it, I’m trying to make it legal, and I’m trying to make sure we make sure people aren’t ripped off.

He added that unlicensed gaming sites cost America a lot of money each year, when that cash could stay in the economy. Payne said, “Where is all that money going? How much money stays in America versus going overseas?

Payne’s Reason for Solo Legislation

When asked why he was not cosponsoring a gaming bill alongside Tina Davis or Nick Miccarelli, Rep. Payne said he wanted to have his stamp on the bill–not some committee approach.

Payne, who also sponsored House Bill 140 to urge the U.S. Congress to reject Restoration of America’s Wire Act, added, “I learned my lesson early on. You sign your name to a bill, and then it gets changed in committee and the next thing you know you sponsored a bill to ban Christmas.

Nick Miccarelli’s Bill – HB695

In response to the full iGaming bill proposed by John Payne, Nick Miccarelli sponsored his own bill to offer online poker, but not table games like blackjack, roulette, craps, and baccarat. The iPoker bill would allow state-licensed gaming sites to offer Texas hold’em, Omaha holdem, seven-card stud, and other common variants of poker.

The bill would allow for Pennsylvania to sign on to the interstate gaming compact with Delaware and Nevada, though that might not be a palatable option for Pennsylvania. Like New Jersey, the state might see itself as large enough to support its own online poker community.

House Bill 695 also would ban PokerStars and other bad actors from participating in the state’s Internet poker industry. PokerStars, the leading online poker website, is trying to re-enter the US market, but is facing difficulties, due to its role in the Black Friday Scandal.

Poker More Sporting Than Banked Games

When he introduced the legislation, Nick Miccarelli gave good reasons why he chose poker over banked games like blackjack and roulette. He indicated poker involved more skill and does not include a house edge, so gamblers can “win” at the game, if they are good enough and lucky enough. Games which pit the player versus the casino include a stiff house edge which assures a gambler is going to lose, in the long run.

Miccarelli told House members, “Poker is unlike banking games in many respects that make it best for the introduction of interactive gaming. Poker operators are not participants in the games and are indifferent as to the outcome. Additionally, many Pennsylvania residents participate in illegal and unregulated poker sites. Establishing a strong regulatory framework under the Gaming Control Board will assist in shutting down these illegal sites and enhance consumer protection for our gaming residents.

Critics of the Miccarelli proposal say the bill contains so many limitations that it would doom Pennsylvania’s online gambling industry to second-class status. It also would undermine the stated goal of providing additional funds for the state government. One prominent website estimated that HB 695 would generate $4 million in revenues for Pennsylvania in the first year, while Payne’s bill would generate $17.5 million in the same span–almost 4 and 1/2 times more money.

Tina Davis’s Bill – HB 920

Tina Davis has presented the latest bill. It is similar to the bill propsosed by State Representative John Payne in that it woudl include a whole range of Internet gambling. The bill focuses on the economic important of such a bill for the people of Pennsylvania.

Tina Davis recently gave a statement about her proposed legislation. She said, “A responsible internet gaming system must be created in order to protect Pennsylvanians and the success of the established gaming industry in the Commonwealth, which has generated more than $7 billion in state tax revenue, and created more than 16,000 jobs statewide.

$5 Million Licensing Fee

HB920 would require online gambling sites, including casinos and poker rooms, to pay a $5 million fee to be licensed. The license would last 3 years and could be renewed for another 3-year period for $500,000.

The tax rate on online gambling sites would be 28%, which is similar to the tax rate on brick-and-mortar casinos. To register at the online sites, Pennsylvania gamblers also would have to register at one of the 12 land-based casino gaming n the state. Those casinos would be required to carry out the necessary checs on the background of the registering player.

House Gaming Oversight Committee

To make sense of the competing bills and to discuss the prospect of iGaming in general, the Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee has scheduled two public hearings in the near future: one on April 16 and the other on May 6.

John Pappas, President of the Poker Players Alliance, is expected to attend the May 6th meeting. Pappas released a statement on the upcoming meetings in which he said, “The May 6 hearing will provide a forum to make our best case why the Commonwealth needs to act this year. I have little doubt that online gaming opponents will be out in full force, and we need to be prepared to crush their rhetoric with facts.

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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