THE FIGHT: Choppy Waters in Illinois and Pennsylvania

The online poker legislative dominoes continue to stand upright since New Jersey enacted online gaming last month. This week brought positive news from Delaware – which has been leading the way for online gaming – but concern in Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Let’s start with Illinois, where a bill that would expand nearly every aspect of Illinois gambling, including authorizing online gambling, is pending in the legislature. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn seems to be in favor of most of the brick-and-mortar proposals but has expressed skepticism about legalizing online gambling.

“I think that’s problematic,” Quinn told Chicago’s NPR radio station, 91.9. “It’s a brand new idea and there hasn’t been much review on that at all.  Anytime you have something brand new it shouldn’t just be thrown into a bill at the last minute.”

Quinn’s referring to the fact that although brick-and-mortar expansion plans have been on the table for a while, the bill that was introduced in the legislature a month ago contained surprise provisions for regulating online gambling. Quinn has vetoed gambling expansion in the past. Even though he now favors it in live venues, he may not be hesitant to veto another bill because of online gambling provisions.

The news is only slightly better in Pennsylvania (or perhaps, not quite as bad). Pennsylvania legislative analysts and lobbyists have been expecting Rep. Tina Davis (D-Bucks) to introduce an online gambling bill for roughly two months now. Davis gave a lengthy interview to PCN TV – Pennsylvania’s equivalent of C-SPAN for state politics – in which she promised that the bill will be re-introduced within the next two weeks after she’s finished initial discussions and negotiations with all the interests groups that have a stake in the outcome.

Davis doesn’t come off as particularly well-educated on the issues surrounding online gambling legislation – in particular, her answer to a question on what interstate compacts are, and why her bill doesn’t provide for them, was incoherent. Unless Davis gets up to speed, she could be a liability going forward, especially since a Republican member of the Pennsylvania House, Paul Clymer (R-Bucks), is sponsoring his own bill seeking to prohibit online gaming in the state.

There are two bright points this week. Gambling Compliance reported that the Delaware Lottery is targeting September 30, 2013 for the launch of regulated online poker in the state. It’s hard to know how realistic that timeframe is. Six months seems like enough time to issue licenses and certify software. Nevada, however, has struggled with the software certification part of the equation (although certainly the companies that are trying to pass certification right now have little prior industry experience). We can cross our fingers and hope that Delaware has a better time of it.

And finally, Washington State poker player Curtis Woodward is championing two ballot initiatives designed to decriminalize online poker in Washington and to require operators to have a physical presence in the state. Since 2006, playing online poker has been a felony in Washington. Woodward hopes to get the initiatives on the November 2014 ballot.

While politicians remain the best hope for online poker legalization, it’s great to see players taking THE FIGHT directly to the people.

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Kevin McGrady

Legislative and Politics Beat Writer: Kevin McGrady practiced corporate law in New York City for eight years before moving to Las Vegas in 2008 to join the gaming industry. Kevin is a graduate of New York University and Columbia University School of Law.
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