Payne optimistic about his Pennsylvania online gambling bill, HB 649

Last month, Pennsylvania House Representative and Chairman of the Gaming Oversight Committee, John Payne, introduced two new bills. HB 649 aims to legalize and regulate online gambling, while HR 140 is a resolution urging Congress to deny the Sheldon Adelson-backed Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA). Rep. Payne has since revealed his optimism for both measures.

PA House Representative John Payne talks about HB 649In a lengthy dialogue with OnlinePokerReport, Rep. John Payne said that he feels most of his fellow legislators are on board with HB 649, and that he even feels Gov. Tom Wolf is “open minded” to the benefits that iGaming regulation would bring to the Keystone State.

HB 649 was scripted to regulate and tax online poker, casino and fantasy sports betting in Pennsylvania. It is akin to the regulations already approved in New Jersey, where the question of license eligibility is left in the hands of regulators, not the text of the bill. Lacking a so-called ‘bad actors’ clause would open the door for PokerStars to enter the market.

Payne explained one major reason behind his optimism, “I think because we have bipartisan support – representative [Nick] Kotik and I both introduced this bill and he’s my co-chair on the Democratic side – so we tried to set the tone by saying the two chairman are going to cosponsor the bill and introduce the bill.”

A key issue tackled in Payne’s interview was the attitude of Gov. Wolf, who has the ultimate say in whether HB 649 is worthy of passage. During his election campaign, Wolf went on record as opposing online gambling. He was asked a series of yes or no questions with the option to elaborate. When asked if he favored online gambling, he simply replied “no”. And according to Payne, the governor is more acquiesce to the issue now.

“So far the governor has been open-minded, and taken the position of ‘go show me’, what it is, how it would work, and what the revenue numbers are,” said Payne.

“Most people are open-minded about it,” explained Payne. “Show me how it’s going to work, show me how we’re going to protect the minors and the compulsive gamblers, and show me how the revenue stream will work.” Payne said that as a House Representative and Chairman of the Gaming Oversight Committee, his job is to introduce legislation, and in May, provide research and statistical data to the state’s leaders that would answer the Governor’s questions.

Payne responds to HB 649 Nay-Sayers

To opponents of gambling expansion, he said that regulated online gambling cannot be considered an expansion when it’s already happening in Pennsylvania. “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,” said Payne.

The questions he asked of his adversaries on the issue are these. “Where is all that money going? How much money stays in America versus going overseas?”

Payne also explained his position that online gambling is easier to supervise than land-based gambling in terms of preventing underage and problem gambling. “Regulations like out in Nevada will do more to make it difficult for a compulsive gambler or an underage gambler to gamble online than it is to drive out to Hollywood Casino walk in the building with 500 bucks and sit down and start playing.”

It was also pointed out that, in the nearly two years that regulated online gambling has taken place in US states like Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey, not a single case of underage gambling has been documented. At land-based casinos, underage gambling reports are almost commonplace. Even at Sheldon Adelson’s PA casino, Sands Bethlehem, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has documented cases of underage gambling in 2009/2010, 2010/2011, 2012 and 2013.

Payne argued that, “Online you’ll have checks and balances, you have to sign in, do an ID check, an age check, and if you’re on the compulsive gaming list we’re going to know it. If you’re underage we’re going to know that.”

HB 649 takes back seat to HR 140, Opposing RAWA

While Payne has high hopes for HB 649, he says the more important issue at the moment is his House Resolution bill, HR 140. That bill’s purpose is to urge congress to “defeat H.R. 707” [RAWA], and any other federal legislation that would seek to enforce a blanket ban on state’s rights to “authorize and conduct internet gaming.”

Rep. Payne told OPR that his HR 140 is an “effort to preserve our state’s right to do Internet gaming now or in the future.”

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