PA Senate Hearing Offers Insights Into Chances State Will Regulate Online Poker

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The PA Senate Committee on Community, Economic and Recreational Development held a hearing today that focused largely on the issue of regulated online gambling.

The hearing occurred against the backdrop of a budget session that closes at the end of the month and pending online poker legislation in both the House and Senate.

While the emergence of those bills and Pennsylvania’s pressing need to close a gaping budget hole have generated optimism among iGaming supporters, today’s hearing presented a more complicated picture of Pennsylvania’s path to regulated online gambling.

Where the key players stand on the issue of online gambling

If I had to summarize the dominant position on regulating online gambling of the casino representatives in attendance, I’d say it was “cautiously supportive.”

Below are brief summaries of the online gambling positions expressed by various casino representatives at the hearing:

  • John Finamore of Penn National Gaming said that his company supports online poker under the right conditions.
  • Sean Sullivan of The Meadows Racetrack & Casino supports online gambling if done right. His primary concern appeared to be tax rate. Said his biggest question is “are we ready.”
  • Jeff Favre of Presque Isle Downs & Casino also supports online gambling if done right. Primary concern appeared to be job loss on land-based side.
  • Wendy Hamilton of Sugar House / Rivers noted that regulated online gambling is off to a very slow start. She suggested waiting one year and watching Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware before doing anything else.
  • Don Mitchell of Isle of Capri Casinos said that they “think the state should view this as an opportunity to augment the existing casinos.” But Mitchell also noted that regulated online gambling “is still in the very early stages and there are questions to be answered.” Due to the threat of a federal ban, Mitchell suggested authorizing now with a longer implementation timeline.
  • Michael Cohen of Caesars Acquisition Company was obviously in support of online poker. Caesars is believed to be primary force behind a pending bill that would regulate online poker in PA. Did not address other games beyond poker.
  • Robert Green of Parx Casino and Racing: was once again ambivalent. He sounded multiple notes of caution. He also seemed dismissive of the potential for online poker. Like several other witnesses, Green urged a slow pace, saying that “”the statistical evidence that is in so far from New Jersey is not enough” to make decisions at this point.
  • Robert Pickus of Valley Forge Casino Resort testified in strong support of regulating online gambling. Pickus spent several minutes speaking to the potential benefits of moving early on the issue, including the fact that operators are more likely to set up shop in early-adopter states and that first movers would have an advantage when it came to establishing and negotiating interstate compacts.
  • Andrew Abboud of Las Vegas Sands Corp opposes regulated online gambling in any form.
  • Kim Hankins of the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association said that he supported online gambling in concept, but that it was crucial for the tax rate to be set in a way that did not incentivize players to move live play to online sites.

Regulators ask for time

Gaming Control Board Chair William Ryan requested “an effective date of one year to implement internet gambling” if a bill is passed by the legislature.

In a separate comment, Sen. Tomlinson echoed the need for a measured approach, telling representatives from Pennsylvania’s land-based casinos that “I take your counsel to proceed slowly [on iGaming] seriously.”

- Chris is the publisher of Grove also serves as a consultant to various stakeholders in the regulated market for online gambling in the United States.
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