he committee's chairman, Republican State Representative John Payne, introduced the bill (HB 649) earlier this year. After having several recent hearings regarding the bill get postponed, Payne saw today's vote pass by a wide 18-8 margin.
"We're very pleased," Payne told Casino City after the hearing. "It's nice to see that after 11 months of hard work and 25 hearings, the members of this committee on both sides of the aisle voted in favor of something that we think will be very important to the residents of Pennsylvania."
The bill will now have to pass a full House vote. Then it would move to the Senate and if it passes there it would land on the desk of Governor Tom Wolf to sign. Payne said he had no idea what the timetable would be.
"You'd have to ask the leaders because I'm just rank-and-file when it comes to that stuff," he said. "My job as chairman was to get it out of committee. We worked very hard to do that. We made sure the leaders had an updated package of what we were looking at every month and I don't think a lot of committees do that."
Today's news also quickly prompted plaudits from the Poker Players Alliance.
"With the passage of H.B. 649, the House Gaming Oversight Committee has proven their commitment to providing Pennsylvania residents with a safe and regulated place to play online poker within their own borders," said John Pappas, executive director of the PPA, in a statement. "The PPA thanks Chairman John Payne and the Committee for their leadership.
"Now this bill needs to become law. The safety of consumers and the fiscal health of Pennsylvania will be vastly improved when Internet gaming is appropriately licensed, regulated and taxed. It is our hope that the legislation will be enacted on its own or as part of the state's 2016 budget by the end of this year."
In addition to online gaming, the bill also authorizes slot machines to be offered in racinos, off-track betting locations and at six of Pennsylvania’s international airports, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Payne said the initial licensing and registrations fees could generate more than $200 million. The committee also voted down an amendment to allow video gaming at restaurants and clubs.
In his fall 2015 newsletter, Payne explained that the bill will protect the millions of Americans -- including Pennsylvanians -- that participate in illegal online gaming and generate additional revenue for the Commonwealth
"These players, and our minors, are currently at risk for fraud and abuse by unlicensed and unregulated offshore gambling sites operating outside the law," he wrote. "My legislation would help to protect our children and of-age consumers. It includes significant financial and criminal penalties for illegal operators, as well as strict protections and enforcement measures to ensure minors are not permitted to gamble.
"By enacting this effective state policy, we can help curb the illegal market while ensuring strong safeguards are in place to protect children and consumers."