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Online poker supporters had high hopes for Pennsylvania in 2016. And despite several positive developments, when the legislative session came to a close in November, online gambling wasn’t among the bills passed into law.
Pennsylvania may have missed the boat in 2016, but the state is still one of the leading contenders to legalize online gambling in 2017.
Representative Rosita Youngblood, one of the champions of online gambling in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, spoke to Online Poker Report about what went wrong in 2016, and where online gambling sits heading into 2017.
See Youngblood’s first interview with OPR here.
Online Poker Report: Senator Tomlinson recently sent a letter to the House where he made the case against several of the gaming reforms the House passed in 2016, including calling for a more cautious (slow) approach to online gambling. How would you refute his assertions?
Rep. Rosita Younglood: The Senator has a right to his opinion about some of the gaming issues facing our Commonwealth. But, with all due respect, a lot of what he listed in his letter is just not factually accurate – especially when it comes to Internet gaming. I have been involved in this issue since 2010. And over the last two years, the House, in a strong bipartisan manner, focused heavily on gaining as much information and facts on the pros and cons of iGaming as possible. And that research showed that regulating iGaming would have no ill-effect on casinos, but in fact would enhance their operations.
And more importantly, regulations would ensure that we protect consumers, underage gamblers and problem gamblers while helping our brick and mortar casinos remain competitive and build a product that will sustain the investment that we have made as a Commonwealth. And partnerships among brick and mortar casinos and online operators in other states have shown to be successful in adding sustainability to the industry.
The fact remains that iGaming IS happening within our state’s borders, just in an unregulated, offshore and un-taxed space. The protections for consumers and kids and compulsive gamblers do not exist – and our casinos are at a competitive disadvantage. Not to mention that fact that all legislative leaders and the governor accounted for $100 million to close out our state budget – which was built upon passing iGaming in the Fall. The House remained true to its commitment, yet the Senate did not. I am perplexed by the timing of the Senator’s letter, because many of his concerns could have been addressed during the summer and fall – we could have worked together to find compromise.
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OPR: What’s the overall mood and outlook for online gambling and any other gaming reforms in 2017?
Youngblood: Honestly, I thought the Senate would have acted on the gaming reforms the House passed TWICE last year – especially the bill that would have rectified the current local gaming tax situation facing the Commonwealth. I might be a bit more pessimistic – because the roadblocks seem to remain in the Senate. They remain the key to getting gaming reforms done – and with all due respect, with letters being distributed by high ranking members of the Senate that are based on myth and opinion, and not fact – it just makes it more difficult to find an agreement on the issues we face.
We have a significant budget deficit, our local communities are potentially going to lose millions of dollars in local tax funding, and our consumers, kids and compulsive gamblers all remain exposed to an unregulated internet gaming environment. I remain focused on getting these reforms and regulations done because it is in the best interest of our citizens and will help keep our casinos competitive. I hope the Senate finally sees the light, and soon.
OPR: If online gambling doesn’t pass in the spring the state will have a $100 million budget shortfall, what would this mean for the state?
Youngblood: The shortfall will be significantly higher – beyond the $100 million promised to close out the current budget. We missed an opportunity to see the tax revenue begin to flow from iGaming, and the additional resources for problem and compulsive gambling. We missed an opportunity for Pennsylvania to remain a leader in regulated gaming – and to reap the benefits of passing a bill last year. The consequences could have long-lasting impacts for our Commonwealth – there are competing gaming proposals that are now revived that could hinder our regulated industry – and all of the work done to pass a clean gaming reform proposal is now thrown out the window. We start from scratch. This alone could limit our ability to get something done right away this spring. Essentially – the Senate’s failure to act this fall has hit the reset button on the progress we made…and it will be up to them to fix it.
OPR: Will the House continue to push for a comprehensive gaming reform bill that includes the local tax share fix, online gambling, DFS, and some of the other gaming reforms?
Youngblood: I can only speak for me – and yes I plan to once again push for a comprehensive gaming reform bill in 2017. House Bill 2150 was a great start. The amended version of House Bill 1887 that the Senate failed to pass this fall was probably a more realistic approach. I would assume that the House will take the lead on passing something to the Senate – but again – the Senate needs to come to the table and work with us to get it done.
OPR: Is there any indication as to who the new leadership on the Gaming Oversight Committee will be in 2017?
Youngblood: I am not yet aware of who the new chairmen might be. Hopefully, at the start of the new year, we will have a better sense of where folks will be and who will lead the charge next session.
Image credit: NPR StateImpact