Pennsylvania Hearing Cools Off Online Gambling Expectations

PA sealPennsylvania is seen as one of the stronger contenders to pass an online gambling bill, but looks can be deceiving, as we learned on Thursday.

Thursday saw the House Democratic Policy Committee host an informal online gambling hearing that left observers with a far more pessimistic view of the legislature’s ability to pass an online gambling bill this year.

The hearing shouldn’t be viewed as the be all end all, as it was merely a small group of democrat lawmakers who were in attendance. The hearing was not representative of the entire legislature.

What Thursday’s hearing did deliver was a preliminary taste of Pennsylvania’s iGaming appetite, as it was scheduled just a week ahead of the state sanctioned online gambling study that comes due on May 7th.

Unfortunately, the taste it gave us was similar to a $2 steak; a far cry from the filet mignon offered up at last week’s California hearing; a hearing that was full of optimism and intrigue, and had a “when” not “if” vibe to it. On the other hand, the Pennsylvania hearing was the exact opposite, with online gambling expansion in 2014 looking like two-outer at this point.

It’s not a lost cause, but 2015 and beyond is looking like a much better bet.

Reasons to be pessimistic

We don’t need no education

Lawmakers were quite frankly ignorant of even the most rudimentary aspects of online gambling.

Even Tina Davis (D-Bucks County), who introduced the state’s iGaming bill in 2013, seemed to have little understanding of online gambling.

In fact, most of the committee seemed unaware how eCommerce in general works, with one member of the state assembly wondering aloud how one would fund their online account, saying, “Do I send money off into the ‘Ethernet’ somewhere?”

There is no such thing as a stupid question

Equally troubling, lawmakers asked very few questions of the panelists.

They weren’t Clarence Thomas silent, but even when they did speak or ask a question very little was added to the conversation as the questions ranged from basic to the slightly absurd.

Another nonbeliever emerges

Judging by his comments, and forebodings, Parx Casino’s Chairman, Bob Green, is being dragged into online gambling.

With Green’s iciness to iGaming that makes two of the strongest casino interests in the state who have little interest in online gambling expansion –one of whom, Sheldon Adelson, a lot more vehement than the other.

And don’t lose sight of the fact that Sheldon Adelson’s presence wasn’t even felt at the hearing. But you can bet your last dollar his voice will certainly be heard if Pennsylvania lawmakers try to move forward with iGaming expansion.

Reasons to be optimistic

Tomorrow is another day

As Yoda would say, “There is another.” And in this case the “other” is the soon to be revealed online gambling study, as next week the legislature will receive the iGaming study they commissioned some six months ago.

The study will have its own hearing of sorts, where hopefully the attendees from the legislature have a better grasp of online gambling and a healthier debate will occur.

It’s a start

Another positive takeaway is that the ball is now officially rolling, and everyone from Bob Green to the speakers representing the Council for Compulsive Gamblers seems resigned to the fact that online gambling expansion is real and it’s going to happen at some point.

Myths are being debunked

Whether it’s a hearing like Thursday’s, an iGaming conference like iGNA, or even a fact-finding forum, more and more data regarding the US iGaming industry keeps coming to light, and the more data that comes to light the more anti-online gambling advocates arguments are riddled with holes.

The themes are becoming predictable at this point, and at every hearing you can expect to hear the following:

  • The Black Market sites are not going to disappear if online gambling is prohibited
  • Geolocation, Age, and ID verification works
  • Online gambling provides a better safety net for problem gamblers than land based casinos
  • Regulation helps thwart money laundering
  • Online gambling is complimentary to land-based casinos
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