Pennsylvania Online Poker Laws

Pennsylvania Online Poker Law

With a dozen casinos owned by some of the largest casino operators in the world — and surrounded by states that will soon allow its residents to play, it’s inevitable that online poker fans will be able to eventually play in Pennsylvania.

A bill that would’ve taxed and regulated online gambling, including poker, was introduced in 2013 by Rep. Tina Davis. It had the support of at least a dozen state legislators, but was delayed by the state’s Gaming Oversight Committee until at least 2015.

This is a good thing. The proposed bill had many hostile-to-the-industry problems, from a $5 million licensing fee to a Dr. Evil-like whopping 28 percent tax rate on online poker winnings.

The Gaming Oversight Committee’s chair, Rep. Tina Pickett, said she worried about “bringing gambling to everyone’s kitchen table,” a common mantra of the legislators who really don’t understand online poker.

The bill also only allowed for current brick-and-mortar casinos in Pennsylvania to apply for the licenses. Details such as whether the casinos would be allowed to partner with out-of-state companies — or if player pools could be shared on platforms run by casinos with online poker licenses in other states — were not addressed.

Even if the bill made it through committee, it’s highly doubtful it would have been approved by the GOP-dominated state house or signed by uber-Conservative Tom Corbett. The state’s casino industry did little to back the bill, so it remains in committee, hopefully forever.

Be sure another gambling bill, and maybe even a standalone online poker bill, is being drawn up and will be submitted for the 2014 session.

As Pennsylvania moves forward with online gambling and online poker legislation, the problem with lumping online poker with online casino gambling will be clearly illustrated. Whatever bill is pushed through, it will certainly be written so it protects the profits of Pennsylvania’s existing casinos.

Thanks to the highest casino tax rate in the country, Pennsylvania takes more money from the casino industry than any other state. The four-year total between 2009 and 2012 is $5.4 billion. Despite a raging natural gas industry (a pro-industry Republican, Corbett practically gave away the state’s gas rights), Pennsylvania is broke and depends on its gambling revenue for its educational and property tax relief programs.

The state is surrounded by future online poker markets. New York, West Virginia, and Ohio will most likely have legal online poker by the end of 2017, and Delaware and New Jersey have already legalized it.

This should only speed up implementing online poker in Pennsylvania, with or without having to piggyback on a broad online gambling bill.

When Will I Get to Play Online Poker in Pennsylvania?

Look for a new online gambling bill to be proposed by lawmakers in 2014, possibly a bill that calls for a major study on the potential effects of online gambling in Pennsylvania. A standalone online poker bill is highly unlikely.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune, Rep. Mauree Gingrich said “Online gambling is not a priority, nor is it under consideration in Pennsylvania.” She is the chairwoman of the House Committee on Gaming Oversight. She went on: “We do not have any estimates on potential additional revenues resulting from Internet gaming. Of course, before that could be accomplished, a tax rate, license fees, the regulatory structure would all have to be a part of the equation.”

In other words, they have a lot of work to do before a bill could make it out of committee. Look for 2015 to be a big year for online poker in Pennsylvania. Players will most likely be able to get online in 2016.