Interpretations Differ on Wolf PA Online Poker Comments

PennsylvaniaGovernor Wolf´s Facebook Live comments about the prospects for online poker in Pennsylvania have been interpreted as a positive signal by some in the media.

Earlier this week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf hosted one of his regular Facebook Live Q&A sessions. For the majority of the session the questions related to the state budget. However, just before the end of the session, the Governor´s aide selected a question from the PPA´s Pennsylvania representative asking when online poker would be regulated in the Keystone State.

Having been asked about a situation that is supposedly out of his control until a bill approved by both legislative chambers lands on his desk, the Governor answered in the only way that he could – I don´t know. The Governor then added a few comments suggesting he was aware of proposed legislation before the General Assembly and that there were several issues still to resolve.

A Positive Sign or a Large Scale Tell?

The PPA and OnlinePokerReport were keen to latch on to the Governor´s comment that real work was being done in the General Assembly, while the “news” was communicated by the traffic monitoring site PokerScout as Online gaming work in progress – the lack of punctuation implying progress was being made. Although the positive approach is commendable, it is not necessarily accurate.

The “real work” comment was certainly taken out of context. What the Governor actually said was:

I think there is real work being done in the General Assembly as to what enhanced gambling — including online gambling, including possibly online poker — would look like moving forward.

A glass-half-empty observer might interpret the comment as meaning nobody yet knows what shape enhanced gambling might take and, once that decision is made, it might possibly involve online poker. Later comments made by the Governor suggested he was concerned the regulation of online gambling might result in cannibalization of the casino industry and state lottery, and he also hinted at wanting legislation that was easy to implement without too much regulatory oversight.

Is Senator Wolf Leaning towards the Regulation of VGTs?

Unlike what has been reported in some poker media, the regulation of online gambling is not necessary to fill a $250 million void in the state budget. The shortfall is accounted for in the budget by changes to Pennsylvania gaming law which could include the regulation of Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs) – a proposal that would generate an estimated $300 million each year in license fees and revenues.

Unsurprisingly, the casino industry opposes the regulation of VGTs in Pennsylvania. It claims that regulation would cannibalize the industry and create a loss of jobs. The industry´s argument has been discredited by reports indicating that in excess of 40,000 VGTs are already operating in the state, and that the typical VGT gambler is not a casino patron. The regulation of VGTs would therefore resolve Governor Wolf´s concerns about cannibalization of the casino industry and state lottery.

The regulation of VGTs in Pennsylvania would also be easier to implement and oversee. As VGTs already exist throughout the state, there would not be as much additional work for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, and support groups such as the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (the department that provides support for problem gamblers) would not require additional funding to deal with an increase in addictive gambling – as was claimed would happen with online gambling in the June 2015 hearing of the Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee.

Take a Look at the Video and See What You Think

In case you think I reading between the lines a little too much, take a look at the video below and see what you think. Particularly watch the Governor´s hand movements under the table when he starts talking about an expansion of gambling. In my opinion, Senator Wolf is letting the PPA representative down gently. Is the situation really out of his control until a bill lands on his desk, or does the Governor know something he is not saying – verbally at least? You decide.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett