PA House Rejects Regulated Online Gambling – Twice

PennsylvaniaPennsylvania´s House of Representatives twice voted against regulated online gambling in the Keystone State, but the proposals could be debated again today.

Yesterday´s hearing in Harrisburg illustrated how little many politicians know about online gambling. Twice the House of Representatives voted on proposals to regulate online gambling in Pennsylvania, and twice the proposals were rejected due to fears that regulated online gambling amounted to an expansion of gambling in the state.

Despite the dual rejection of John Payne´s HB 649, hopes still survive that revised proposals could be debated in the House again today; although, even if passed at the third time of asking, some of the amendments being suggested are unlikely to find favor in the Senate. Or with the state´s brick and mortar casinos.

The Two Votes and Their Reasons for Failure

The two votes were taken on slightly different versions of proposals to regulated online gambling in Pennsylvania. The first – defeated 122 – 66 – would have allowed video gaming terminals (VGTs) in taverns, bars, social clubs and volunteer fire halls. The second vote – defeated 107 – 81 – included proposals to allow slot machines in airport departure lounges and off-track horse betting parlors.

It is well chronicled that the state´s casinos are opposed to video gaming terminals and slot machines due to fears of cannibalization, and likely that these versions of HB 649 were defeated due to some concentrated lobbying. It is also clear – according to some of the comments made in the House – that many politicians are ignorant about the existing presence of unregulated online gambling.

Currently, if you want to gamble online in Pennsylvania, play on VGTs in a bar or on slots in an airport terminal, all you have to do is log into an account with an unregulated online gambling site. However, this fact seems to have been lost on Representative Mike Schlossberg (coincidently the representative for Lehigh were the Sands Bethlehem Casino is located), who said:

I have hundreds of constituents employed there [at Sands], and government is supposed to be in the business of expanding jobs, not endangering them. I am genuinely worried about the impact that expanded Internet gaming and machines in restaurants and taverns could have on addiction and crime.

Casinos also Confused about Unregulated Online Gambling

On the face of it, eleven out of twelve Pennsylvania brick and mortar casinos are in favor of regulated online gambling – provided they remain in control of it and benefit financially. The odd one out is the Sands Bethlehem Casino which is owned by Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas billionaire who has vowed to spend whatever it takes to prevent online gambling – not just in Pennsylvania, but throughout the whole of the USA.

However, Michael Bean – CEO of the Mohegan Sun Casino – yesterday demonstrated his own ignorance about the existence of unregulated gambling by claiming that regulated online gambling and daily fantasy sports would not hurt the casino industry, but VGTs in bars would. He told the Morning Call newspaper that slot machines in airports and VGTs in bars would hurt not just the casinos, but also their workers, communities in which the casinos were located and the state. He said:

We would have never agreed to invest $659 million in Pennsylvania if we thought this was coming. The inclusion of video gaming terminals in this bill is particularly troubling. If you add to the supply, it’s going to cannibalize the casinos. It will damage a model that’s been very successful for Pennsylvania.

It is not known whether this unjustified scaremongering indicates the true feelings of Pennsylvania´s entire brick and mortar casino industry (unjustified because people can already play video games for money online at unregulated sites) or their lack of awareness about unregulated online gambling; but it shows the true colors of the Mohegan Sun Casino – that their support for regulated online gambling in Pennsylvania has nothing to do with consumer protection, only control and money.

Third Time Lucky for Regulation in the Keystone State?

If the proposals to regulate online gambling in Pennsylvania are debated once again today, it is not known what format the amended bill will take. With politicians displaying an alarming lack of knowledge about the existing presence of unregulated online gambling, and casinos opposed to any tax generating proposal that they are not in charge of, it would appear unlikely it will be third time lucky for any format of proposed regulation.

Furthermore, should an acceptable compromise be found in the House, and HB 649 passes, the proposals are likely to face stiff opposition in the Senate. In December, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said there was a lack of support for the expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania. We don´t have the votes for that [geolink href=””]he told NBC Philadelphia[/geolink]. It won´t happen.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett