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Off The Wall: Debate Over Gambling Machines At Pennsylvania Bars Could Doom Online Poker

Lawmakers Trying To Come To Compromise On Gambling Package


Is the Keystone State going to let online poker players down once again?

For about five years Pennsylvania has looked at legalizing and regulating online casino games, including poker, and talks are heating up in 2017 as both the Senate and House have approved versions of a gambling expansion package that includes provisions to make it the fourth state with regulated online poker. Five years of failed efforts is bewildering, but not as miserable as 10 years worth of debate over online poker in do-nothing California.

In Pennsylvania, the issue of whether or not you should be able to play slot-like machines known as video gaming terminals (VGTs) at bars and restaurants around the state might keep the poker community from a much-needed breakthrough.

No state has approved regulated online poker since 2013. In New Jersey, online poker revenue has fallen year-over-year over the last few months. House-banked online games are booming, however. Pennsylvania has about 12.7 million people, and if it combined player pools with New Jersey it could be a turning point for the industry.

Online poker thrives on liquidity.

According to a report from, the roadblock is that lawmakers in the Pennsylvania House want VGTs in the package, while the majority of state Senators have concerns about them. A planned meeting over the weekend reportedly was postponed because of the impasse.

The argument for the VGTs is that it gives the bar and restaurant industry a way to compete in the gaming space. Those opposed, which include one of the wealthiest men in the world, think it would cannibalize existing casino revenue.

Pennsylvania has 12 casinos, and they win about $3.2 billion a year from gamblers. The problem is that the Keystone State casino gambling market has plateaued.

There’s reportedly not enough votes in the Senate to pass the bill with the VGTs included, but that could possibly change. The deadline appears to be this week.

The state has been eyeing about $250 million in new tax revenue from gambling expansion, so there’s been strong motivation to sort out the issue. Also, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last year that a local share tax between casinos and their host communities was unconstitutional in its current form, which has prompted lawmakers to figure out a way to keep that money flowing.

Online gaming is expected to add about $300 million to the state’s gambling market when the industry reaches maturation, which could take several years after launch.

While the clock is ticking for Pennsylvania, New York’s online poker efforts this year have already been shelved. Illinois is the only other state with a chance to approve online poker this year.