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With the impending sale of Sands Bethlehem to the MGM Resorts, the number of supporters could soon come to 11.
If the sale goes through, Parx Casino will find itself waging a one-casino battle against online gambling legalization in Pennsylvania. At last week’s joint committee hearing, six casinos were resolute in their support of legalized online gambling.
Here’s a look at recent comments made by these casinos, and the other four casinos supporting online gambling in Pennsylvania.
In written testimony submitted on March 7, Mount Airy Casino stated:
“Mount Airy fully supports the legalization of internet gaming with reasonable license fees and a tax rate commensurate with the rate imposed in New Jersey. Internet-gaming will provide a critical new source of tax revenue for the Commonwealth and new local share tax revenue to assist local communities. In addition, it will protect consumers from the existing illegal market.”
In written testimony submitted ahead of the hearing, Valley Forge Casino President and CEO Eric Pearson stated:
“Additionally, I hope you will consider allowing internet gaming in the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania has an opportunity to be among the first in what will be a significant growth opportunity for the industry moving forward.
As we can see from our neighboring state to the east, once the internet gaming market is established, then a real opportunity for consistent healthy growth exists. If internet gaming is considered here in Pennsylvania, then I ask that it not discriminate against Category 3 casinos and allow us to participate in this exciting new area.”
Donn Mitchell, the chief administrative officer for Lady Luck’s parent company, Isle of Capri Casinos, said the following:
“IOC is supportive of the commonwealth authorizing IGaming so long as the expansion is run through the 12 brick and mortar casinos. Legalizing on-line gaming through the existing casinos will allow current licensees to drive new customers to their facilities and increase revenues to the state.”
In a PowerPoint presentation prepared for the March 7 hearing, Caesars’ Senior Vice President, Government Relations & Development David Satz submitted the following summary findings to the Pennsylvania Legislature:
SugarHouse Casino General Manager Wendy Hamilton and Rush Street Interactive President Richard Schwartz appeared before the committee as representatives of Rush Street Gaming. Rush Street owns and operates SugarHouse Casino and Rivers Casino in Pennsylvania.
Schwartz said, “We believe that if properly implemented, online gaming represents a unique opportunity to increase the health and financial performance of the brick-and-mortar casino industry in Pennsylvania while at the same time generating significant licensing fees and tax revenues for the Commonwealth.”
SugarHouse Casino launched an online gambling site in New Jersey in conjunction with Golden Nugget late last year. The executives explained that online gambling has not cannibalized Golden Nugget’s land-based business, but instead has presented an entirely new customer base.
“In closing, there are few other ‘marketing programs’ in the industry that share this same capacity to generate new players and grow the spending of existing players in such a fashion that it will materially improve the performance of the brick and mortar casinos in the Pennsylvania. Bricks and mortar casinos and online gaming increasingly offer different and complimentary services and experiences.
As the casino industry has matured in Pennsylvania, it has become more than just a gaming experience, with expanded dining and entertainment options at many casinos, including SugarHouse and Rivers.
As a result of this and other compelling data points, we believe that online gaming represents an exciting opportunity to increase the health of the brick-and-mortar casino industry in the state of Pennsylvania, while generating licensing and tax revenue for the Commonwealth.”
Penn National has been one of the biggest supporters of online gambling in Pennsylvania.
At a June 2014 hearing, Penn National Senior Vice President, Regional Operations John Finamore said the company supports online poker “under the right conditions.”
At a June 2015 hearing, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs Eric Schippers called online gaming “a vital tool” that could protect what casinos have built in Pennsylvania. Schippers went on to say that “iGaming will not cannibalize brick and mortar gaming – opposite is true.”
The company has been relatively quiet as of late, but this doesn’t mean Penn National’s support is wavering.
The company was a signatory on an October 2016 letter sent by nine casinos – Harrah’s, Penn National, Valley Forge, Rivers, SugarHouse, Lady Luck, Mohegan Sun, Presque Isle, and Meadows – to House and Senate leadership.
It read in part:
“We want to make it abundantly clear that while we all may have differing views on internet gaming, we would all much rather accept internet in lieu of any additional tax. Internet gaming would provide a new source of funds to assist surrounding communities and it protects consumers from the existing illegal market.”
Meadows has been supportive of online gaming for several years, with the caveat that the cost can’t be prohibitive.
At the June 2014 hearing, Meadows General Manager and Vice President Sean Sullivan asserted that Meadows supports online gambling if it’s done right.
Sullivan reiterated his company’s stance at the June 2015 hearing. He remarked that Meadows supported online gambling “as long as it was affordable.”
Sullivan also explained that Meadows intended to use online gambling to promote its brick and mortar casino and appeal to millennials. He made mention of the current illegal market and said online gambling helps address the issue of unlawful gambling.
At a May 2015 Gaming Oversight hearing held at Meadows, Sullivan went on the record as saying, “We support what the best interests are for Commonwealth and its needs for increased revenues…as long as it’s reasonable.”
He went on to list the importance of low tax rates (in the 10 percent range) and the possibility of using upfront licensing fees as payment toward future taxes owed.
During the June 2014 hearing, Presque Isle Downs & Casino General Manger and Vice President Jeff Favre also supported online gambling. Like many others at the time, Favre stressed online gambling regulation needed to be “done right.”
In addition to signing the 2016 letter, Presque Isle included its name on a 2015 letter signed by seven casinos:
The 2015 letter states:
“We support internet gambling at a fair rate of taxation (15%) and a reasonable up-front fee; available to all Classes of licensees on the same terms. The industry needs to ignore the fate of other industries that have ignored the internet (record industry, book stores, etc.).
Based on experiences to date in regulated U.S. jurisdictions online gambling is likely to increase – not cannibalize – overall revenues and taxes. And it will create cross-marketing opportunities for licensees and improve distribution channels for operators to all customer segments.”
Mohegan Sun, which operates an online gambling website in neighboring New Jersey, was a signatory of the 2016 letter.
The company made its most pointed remarks on online gambling in a May 2016 article in the Morning Call. CEO Michael Bean said he wanted online gambling and fantasy sports betting, but not if it meant the passage of other gaming expansions such as OTBs and airport gaming.