THE FIGHT: Pennsylvania Moves to a Back Burner

Special interests in Washington continue to try to peddle the federal online gaming bill introduced by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) last week to anyone who will buy. By this round of THE FIGHT, however, veteran industry observers know better than to put too much hope in the bill.

Senate Majority Leader and lukewarm internet poker proponent Harry Reid (D-NV) all but confirmed that lack of hope in an interview last week with the Las Vegas Sun. “I felt for several months now that I don’t see any movement on [online poker],” Reid said. “We’re still trying but I’m not really confident that we can get something done.”

Reid noted that King’s bill is unlikely to succeed for several reasons, but most importantly because it authorizes all forms of internet gaming. Online poker by itself has been a tough enough sell at the federal level, made even tougher by the fact that Reid himself never seemed committed to doing what was necessary to pass a bill.

Rep. Tina Pickett chairs the PA Gaming Oversight Committee.

Rep. Tina Pickett chairs the PA Gaming Oversight Committee.

Like it or not, THE FIGHT is likely to be a state-by-state battle from here on out, and it’s not an especially hopeful battle right now. Earlier this week, buried at the bottom of a story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about the obstacles to internet gaming in Ohio, was an item about the prospects of an internet gaming bill introduced in Pennsylvania earlier this year by Rep. Tina Davis. The chairperson of the Pennsylvania House’s Gaming Oversight Committee, Rep. Tina Pickett, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that she would prefer to see how online gaming in New Jersey affects the bottom line of Pennsylvania casinos before moving on the bill.

New Jersey internet gaming has not yet been rolled out, of course. All signs continue to indicate that the first games will be offered in the fourth quarter of 2013. This week regulators informed casino licensees that all technology partnerships for online gaming should be in place no later than June 29 if casinos want to ensure that they will be able to offer online gaming the moment it goes live in New Jersey at the end of the year.

The deadline is required to complete suitability investigations and other background checks on all potential partners before the first games go live. Licensees were told that any organization which puts a technology partnership in place after June 29 could be delayed from offering internet gaming.

It will likely take a few quarters of operation to determine how helpful New Jersey online gaming has been to New Jersey casinos and how harmful it’s been to Pennsylvania casinos. Assuming that New Jersey launches at the end of November as anticipated, full-year results won’t be available until early in 2015, after the end of Pennsylvania’s current legislative session. If Pickett gets her way and tables HB1235 – and as the Gaming Oversight Committee chairperson, there’s every reason to believe she will – Pennsylvania has a long wait ahead of it.

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Kevin McGrady

Legislative and Politics Beat Writer: Kevin McGrady practiced corporate law in New York City for eight years before moving to Las Vegas in 2008 to join the gaming industry. Kevin is a graduate of New York University and Columbia University School of Law.
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