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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.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

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Pennsylvania House of Representatives rejects, then reintroduces, online gaming bill

26 May 2016

By Gary Trask
In what Rep. John Payne (R-Dauphin) called one of the "more bizarre" days he has experienced during his 14 years and seven terms, on Tuesday the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives rejected two amendments that would have legalized online gambling and expanded land-based gambling.

But amid the uncertainty and shaking of heads on display on the House floor, there was a glimmer of hope for online gaming advocates. While the amendments to the bill have been derailed, they are not dead.

"That's the good news," Payne told Casino City on Thursday morning. "Things are still alive and well, for now. I think it's a case of people just wanting to go back to the drawing board and take a closer look before they decided to completely shut the door."

Rep. John Payne called Tuesday's events "bizarre."

Rep. John Payne called Tuesday's events "bizarre."

Payne saw his bill pass a full house vote back in November. On Tuesday, with legislators looking to wrap up the 2015/2016 session and find ways to close the state's $1 billion-plus deficit, two competing amendments for the online gaming bill were up for consideration and both were defeated handily. The first, which would allow video gaming terminals at taverns, bars, social clubs and volunteer fire houses, failed 122-66 with 14 abstentions. The second, voted down 107-81 (once again with 14 abstentions), would have allowed slots at airport terminals and off-track betting sites. Currently, Pennsylvania allows slot machines just at racetracks.

The problem, according to Payne, is that many of those who voted "no" may have been confused about what they were actually shooting down. He got a sense something was awry just before the first vote when, after he introduced the amendment, there were no questions.

"That kind of shocked me," he said. "I knew we did a pretty good job at the caucus trying to answer everyone's questions, but I never thought we'd go to the vote without somebody not asking or interrogating on something."

Instead, the vote went swiftly and was quickly rejected.

"That's when we had people start saying they were confused and unsure what the vote was actually about," Payne explained. "I get it. I've been doing this 14 years and I realize that sometimes you get on the floor and then you get a phone call, or you start answering e-mails, and you get distracted.

"But it's still very frustrating. I've done 47 hearings about this over the last year and a half. Everyone knows about the bill. The gaming legislation is the only legislation to date that will deliver money toward the pension shortfall, about $300 million worth. So, I was surprised to see people caught off guard by it."

After the second amendment was shot down by a much lesser margin, the leadership suspended floor action and asked for the amendments to be reintroduced, and both were by a wide margin. That means instead of being dead, the amendments will be voted on again in the future. But Payne was making no guesses as to when that might be. Due to Memorial Day Weekend, the House is out of session until at least the first week of June.

"I'm just the chairman of the committee; that's not up to me," he said. "What I do know is that I won't be doing another 47 hearings about this. I don't know what else I can do in the meantime. All we can do is hope that when we do get back on the floor, there won't be similar confusion."

Apparently, Payne was on the mark back in December when he told Casino City that the inclusion of VGTs "may in fact doom the bill in the long run," since the state's 12 land-based casinos "fervently oppose any scenario of having slot machines anywhere but inside their own properties."
 
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