PA Online Gaming Hearing: Abboud Scoffed at, Lawmakers Seem Open-Minded

PA sealThe Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee played host to an online gambling hearing on Thursday, and the best way to describe the day’s proceedings would be positive.

Overall, the hearing went pretty much as expected, with state lawmakers looking favorably on online gambling expansion, but exercising caution when it comes to actually moving forward with potential legislation.

The positive vibes at the hearing shouldn’t be too surprising considering the Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee passed a resolution earlier in the week urging Congress to oppose RAWA or any other bill that would seek to ban online gambling at the federal level.

The resolution easily passed 18-8.

Furthermore, unlike the recent RAWA hearing held in Congress where the panelists consisted of people only loosely connected to online gambling, Pennsylvania’s hearing featured  representatives from a number of Pennsylvania’s Brick & Mortar casinos, technology experts, regulators, and a mix of pro-regulation and anti-online gaming advocates.

In the end there were two key takeaways from the hearing:

  1. Nobody was buying what Andy Abboud was selling
  2. Pennsylvania lawmakers seem quite open-minded to online gambling expansion

Flim Flam

The Committee came across as very open to online gambling expansion, and even though he was the only witness vehemently opposed to online gambling, it was Las Vegas Sands representative Andy Abboud who garnered the most attention during the hearing.

Unfortunately for Abboud, the attention came from lawmakers who seemed to harbor quite a bit of skepticism over Abboud’s claims. The distrust of Abboud’s claims were certainly warranted, considering it was riddled with half-truths, mischaracterizations, and double standards.

As Chris Grove dutifully noted in real-time on Twitter:

It was so bad the Poker Players Alliance issued a statement following the hearing listing 18 “Myths” Andy Abboud cited during his testimony.

At one point Abboud was called out by the Committee Chair, Representative John Payne, for his misdirection, when Payne asked him to keep his answers specific to the questions asked of him.

During the question and answer session Abboud probably felt like a supposed psychic under the watchful eye of Harry Houdini or James Randi, as the representatives of the House Gaming Oversight Committee questioned him on a number of issues:

  1. Sands offering online gaming on-property
  2. Sands long record of fines for underage gambling
  3. Sands fines for money laundering charges

Abboud was unable to effectively answer any of these questions.

A pretty good hearing for regulation advocates

When all was said and done, supporters of online gambling expansion in Pennsylvania had to feel pretty good about themselves for several reasons.

Firstly, as noted above, the hyperbolic rhetoric employed by RAWA advocates like Abboud was roundly rejected.

Secondly, it was readily apparent that the Committee is not only taking this issue seriously, but many members have been researching the issue.

The questions asked were insightful and on-topic, but most importantly, they reflected the current situation on the ground. More or less, the hearing was about online gambling expansion in the U.S. in 2015, and not – as often is the case – online gambling in 2005.

Finally, This wasn’t a case of one or two Committee members showing interest in the issue, online gambling seems to have the attention of the entire Gaming Oversight Committee.

In the aftermath of the hearing the PPA issued a Press Release on the hearing where  they praised the Committee. in the Press Release, Executive Vice president of the PPA John Pappas stated, “It’s clear that the Pennsylvania legislature recognizes the many benefits regulated online poker would bring to consumers and to the state, and we are grateful they are giving this serious consideration.”

Final thoughts

If you’re an advocate for state-level online gambling legalization, Thursday’s hearing in Pennsylvania was certainly a win for your side.

However, I’m not sure we should get too optimistic about what’s taking place in Pennsylvania just yet. A number of similar hearings/conferences have been held in the past two years in California, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, all very similar in tonality.

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