Pennsylvania politicians call for legal sports wagering

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Pennsylvania politicians are pushing to have sports wagering legalized to protect the state’s gaming industry and fill budget deficits.

Democrat Representatives Rob Matzie and Nick Kotik introduced a bill in late 2015 calling on the US Congress to revoke a ban on sports wagering and to allow states that authorize and license casino gambling to legalize land-based sports betting.

This week the bill was discussed at a special hearing held by the Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee.

The pair argued that Pennsylvania has to be ahead of the curve on sports betting, claiming that illegal sports betting is so rife that the state may as well legalize it and benefit from tax revenue, which is expected to be in the millions.

Their bill, which can be read in full here, references a 2008 report from the NBA’s Board of Governors claiming that illegal sports betting is worth between $325 billion and $400 billion a year.

It also takes aim at daily fantasy sports – calling the practice “betting”, a claim which operators FanDuel and DraftKings deny – and says that these games have blurred the lines with regards to sports betting in general, suggesting that the ubiquity of daily fantasy sports could usher in a new era where sports betting is legalized.

In a statement after the hearing, Matzie said: “In this age of budget deficits and impasses, I don’t think we can afford to turn our head at any idea that can provide the state with sustainable revenue.

“Congress lifting the ban wouldn’t force any state into allowing something they have no interest in, but it would give states an option to consider and explore. Until that ban is lifted though, the states that were not grandfathered into an exemption are forced to sit and wait.”

To legalize sports betting, Congress would have to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which prevents all but four states from licensing or authorizing sports betting.

An en banc panel of the Third Circuit is planning to hear New Jersey’s challenge to PASPA in February 19.

After previous disappointments, NJ State Senator Raymond Lesniak, who has been a key supporter of the push to legalize sports wagering, said he feels the Third Circuit is finally leaning in favour of giving sports betting the green light.

New Jersey has already passed a bill allowing sports wagering across the state, but it cannot proceed until a drawn-out legal battle with the four major sports leagues and the NCAA, which the Third Circuit will rule on.

If PASPA concerns were overturned, it is likely that Pennsylvania would quickly join New Jersey in legalizing sports wagering. There is a large hole in the state governor’s budget and many State Representatives have been pushing gambling expansion to fill it.

Republicans in the state are also aiming to legalise online gaming to raise $120 million a year to spend on services like education. Representative John Payne has introduced bill HB649 aiming to allow online wagering in the state and it is expected to be debated in the spring.

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