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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel.

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Pennsylvania House of Representatives OKs gambling bill

29 Jun 2016

By Gary Trask
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved an all-encompassing gambling bill on Tuesday that would authorize online casino games and poker, allow slot machines at off-track betting parlors and airports, and regulate daily fantasy sports.

The bill — HB 2150 — passed the House by a 114-85 vote one week after it was rejected by a 116-79 vote because of a video gaming terminal element. On that same day, after a short recess, the bill was given initial approval after the authorization of VGTs in bars, private clubs and restaurants was removed.

House Gaming Oversight Chairman Rep. John Payne

House Gaming Oversight Chairman Rep. John Payne

"[This] bipartisan vote is the first step toward ensuring Pennsylvania consumers can safely participate in interactive gaming," said House Gaming Oversight Chairman Rep. John Payne (R-Dauphin). "I believe we have developed a comprehensive and fair approach, and I hope the Senate and the governor will agree to make this legislation a priority as we head toward the June 30 budget deadline."

The bill now heads to the Senate floor where, if cleared, would need the signature and final approval of Gov. Tom Wolf. If it gets that far, the Keystone State would join New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware as the only U.S. states to allow online gambling.

UPDATE -- Thursday, June 30 at 5:30 p.m. EDT: The House was in recess for the second time today and had not moved on HB 2150.

Within the wording of the bill is a note estimating that it will generate $266.5 million in additional revenues from the payment of operating licenses and fees and collections of tax revenues in 2016-17.

"Regulating and taxing interactive gaming in Pennsylvania is a viable option that would benefit the state and our communities," Payne said. "Before we ask the taxpayers to fork over more of their hard-earned money, we must consider innovative revenue sources to fill our budget shortfall and keep our public pension system solvent."

The bill would allow the state's 12 land-based casino operators to partner with online gambling technology providers and pay an up-front fee of $8 million for a five-year license, with renewal fees of $250,000.

Online operators would fork over $2 million up front with renewal fees of $100,000 per year, and they would be taxed 16%, with 14% of that revenue going into state coffers and the other 2% reserved for economic development projects.

Play would be limited to residents who are 21 years of age or older, and players would have to register with the casinos. The casinos would also be required to introduce programs in which players could voluntarily limit bets and losses and self-impose a suspension in play upon reaching a certain loss limit, much like the PlayMyWay system that launched at Plainridge Park Casino in Massachusetts earlier this month.

"Right now, Pennsylvanians who are playing these games online are at risk for fraud and abuse, and it's nearly impossible to prevent children from gambling online or to protect problem gamblers," Payne said. "This legislation is needed to safeguard our children, our problem gamblers and our gaming consumers. Without it, we are only allowing the 'Wild West' atmosphere that currently exists to continue."

Pennsylvania's five race tracks and six airports would also get in on the action. Up to 250 slot machines at four off-track betting parlors would receive the green light, with the casinos paying a $5 million fee for each facility. Ticketed passengers at the airports would be able to play standard slot machines, as well as "multi-use" tablets in airport lounges.

As for daily fantasy sports operators, they would be able to offer games to players 18 and older and involving professional sports only. The operators would pay a 5% tax on all revenues, and a five-year license would cost $50,000.
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