Pennsylvania Online Poker: More Q&A with Rep. George Dunbar Pennsylvania Online Poker: More Q&A with Rep. George Dunbar

You’ve been making some headway already. I would continue doing what you’re doing. Use any way to get attention. It’s been more than two months since a state representative from western Pennsylvania introduced what has arguably become the most-watched piece of igaming legislation for 2024.

HB 2078 is a short bill, just two pages. It is also pretty straightforward — all it does is authorize the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) to request the state’s membership in the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA), a multi-state gaming compact. Online poker rooms in Pennsylvania would be able to combine their player pools in other MSIGA states and create shared liquidity, thereby creating bigger prizes pools and making online poker safer for players overall.

Rep. George Dunbar (R-Jeannette), chairman of the House Republican Caucus — and, most importantly, an online poker player himself — introduced the bill on March 5.

A lot has happened since then. After coming out with an explainer article on the bill, pokerfuse focused the #GrowPApoker efforts on social media. The campaign targeted key lawmakers in Pennsylvania, especially:

  • Governor John Shapiro (D)
  • House Majority Leader Matthew Bradford (D-Cedars)
  • Rep. Patrick Harkins (D-Erie), chair of the House Gaming Oversight Committee
  • Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon), Republican chair of the same committee

A social media blitz to draw attention to #GrowPApoker was held on May 7. And PokerStars PA got in on the action by throwing a dedicated freeroll on the same day — an event that Rep. Dunbar played in and did well!

After granting Poker Industry PRO an exclusive interview in early March, Rep. Dunbar spoke with pokerfuse for a follow-up exclusive on how things have fared since then. He said knows first-hand that the aforementioned House lawmakers and their staff definitely took notice of the campaign.

Where should the #GrowPApoker campaign go from here?

First off, people are starting to notice. Advocacy sometimes takes a while. It’s like priming a pump — once you get it primed, it takes a little while for it to start flowing really well.

The chairmen of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, on both sides of the aisle, have taken notice. I shared [the details] with the majority leader. I tried to make sure they all knew what was going on. I referenced the fact of what the pot was in the freeroll [on PokerStars PA], that it related to the House bill number.

The awareness level is up there. That doesn’t necessarily mean things get done right away just because there’s awareness. As a group, we have to continue to push Leader Bradford on the Democratic side of the aisle to get the bill out of committee. Chairman Harkins is not going to run the bill out of committee unless Leader Bradford tells him to move it along.

We’re getting there. We’re a lot further along. I know it’s frustrating. Sometimes it seems so easy — all the governor has to do is [make a] stroke of a pen and we could get this done. But some things aren’t always as easy as people think. To me, it’s a no-brainer — it’s more revenue for the Commonwealth, it doesn’t hurt anybody. We’re getting there, but it’s still a ways to go.

What would you say the odds of passage are for HB 2078? There are obviously more pressing matters before the Pennsylvania General Assembly, but where would you rank this bill in terms of priority?

For individuals, especially some of the some of the men and women I’ve spoken to that play poker online, it is the biggest priority in their life because that may be their livelihood — it may be a priority there. As far as the state is concerned, it’s pretty far down the list, to be honest with you — even within the gaming arena. We have bigger issues as far as gaming is concerned, with skill games that generate much more potential revenues.

But now is the time to put the push on. I can’t be more direct than this: the majority of the work that the House of Representatives and the Senate is going to get done is going to be done in May and June. It’s the budget time, this is when budget negotiations are done. There is nothing that prevents it just being added to a code bill. Just a little amendment saying we’re in the multi-state compact. Awareness is how that gets done.

🏛️ FYI: In Pennsylvania, lawmakers use so-called “code bills” to instruct the state government on how to spend the money in its coffers. But code laws can also be used as a vehicle to advance bills that didn’t make it through the Pennsylvania General Assembly via the usual legislative process.

When we start drafting the budget related bills, as a leader on the Republican side of the aisle, I’m going to say [throw HB 2078] in for me. Then it becomes part of the negotiation. Now at that point in time, if the governor has awareness of it, he may say, 'OK, just let it go.’ But if he doesn’t have any awareness of it, then it becomes more of a battle.

I would say keep up the push. You guys are doing great! You really are. Some people are noticing. We’ll get there!

So, are you saying at this stage that you think the most likely path for Pennsylvania to join MSIGA would be for the idea to be attached to a code bill?

There is potential for it to be in an administrative code bill or a fiscal code bill. That’s an avenue I’m going to pursue — in addition to having the bill run just itself or the governor do a stroke of a pen. There are other options, is what I’m saying.

Would there be any value to doing anything with the metrics from the #GrowPApoker campaign?

The fact that when I went to speak to Leader Bradford and his chief of staff was aware [of the #GrowPApoker campaign], I thought that was great because I didn’t think they had a clue what was going on. So, at least they were aware. You’ve been making some headway already. I would continue doing what you’re doing. Use any way to get attention.

I don’t know if there are any online tournament numbers out there, as far as how the companies in the multi-state compact are doing versus us. I think that’s important, too, because in all honesty, Governor Shapiro, he’s very competitive.

Really? That’s interesting. 🥇

He’s very competitive. If you put things out there saying that we were first in poker revenue and now we’re not because we’re not in the multi-state poker compact, that’s the best type of stuff we can do. He likes being first. I can’t tell you how many speeches I’ve heard Governor Shapiro make about [Ohio] … that they’re “passing us up.” Not that Ohio is in this discussion [about online poker]. But, New Jersey certainly is. And Delaware certainly is.

I understand that poker isn’t a huge priority of anybody in the House or the Senate or the governor’s office. But he likes to say we’re #1. Let’s give him something else for Pennsylvania to be #1 in.

Are you looking forward to possibly playing BetRivers Poker?

Yeah! I think competition is the best thing for making everybody a little bit better. I’m a free market system type of guy. The more the merrier. I think that also shows the need for the multi-state compact — that these companies all can flourish.

I grew up playing on PartyPoker many years ago, and then Full Tilt — played on all the different sites. You need to find a site that you’re comfortable with. That always works for me.

What are some of the features that you look for in an online poker site?

There’s different things that attract different people to a specific website. Personally, I don’t need all of the graphics — like where you’re throwing stuff at each other, or little emojis doing things 🤪. I could care less.

I can’t remember if it was PokerStars or Full Tilt, but you used to be able to, in a tournament, click on your opponent and enter notes. You had to do that because you were going to run into the same people again and again. All you had to do was click on them and you have your notes there about how that person plays. You know who’s likely to slow-play you and who’s likely to try and buy a pot. It’s easier if you could have those notes. That’s something that would be helpful to me as opposed to having graphics and things like that.