PA Senate Hearing Cause for Cautious Optimism

Posted on June 4th, 2014 by Todd Wilkins

PA Senate Hearing Cause for Cautious OptimismFor the second time, a variety of prominent figures in Pennsylvania’s gambling industry gathered to discuss regulating online poker.

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania’s Senate Committee on Community, Economic and Recreational Development sponsored a hearing to discuss online gambling regulation. This is the second time in as many months that the state’s gambling interests have gathered to offer their opinions, and the first since Econsult Solutions released the optimistic results of its four-month long gambling study.

Early last month, Econsult predicted that a Pennsylvania’s prospective online gambling industry could generate upwards of $180 million in first-year revenue and $300 million in subsequent years.

The hearing comes directly on the heels of State Sen. Erickson’s announcement that he will introduce a new poker-only bill before the June 30 state budget deadline. A companion bill in the House is also expected.

Summary of PA Senate Hearing

Yesterday’s hearing featured the usual hodgepodge of casino representatives.

On the pro-online gambling side of the proverbial fence was usual suspect Michael Cohen of Caesars. As expected, Cohen spoke in favor of online poker legislation.

Then there was Sheldon Adelson man on the scene Andrew Abboud. In what has becoming a recurrent theme The Sands’ Las Vegas VP lashed out against online poker, citing seemingly contradictory evidence as to why online gambling regulation is bad for America. Of particular note, Abboud stated that the evidential absence of proof regarding minors playing online in the regulated marketplace was evidence that they in fact were gambling online – confounding, we know.

The hearing’s other attendees took a more moderate stance, with most appearing cautiously optimistic and the remainder voicing their trepidation.

Parx Casino Chairman Robert Green downplayed Econsult’s findings, also citing that there wasn’t enough statistical evidence in New Jersey to advocate a PA iGaming push this year. Due to Parx Casino’s status as the top revenue generating casino in the state, Green is considered one of the industry’s most influential parties. His anti-iGaming leanings could speak volumes towards delaying the passage of a bill until 2015.

Green also cited that since online gambling went live in New Jersey last November, that Parx’s poker room lost 20 percent of its New Jersey patrons. While the validity of Green’s assertion is unknown, it seems difficult to believe that the Garden State’s struggling iGaming market would put more than an insignificant dent in Parx’s poker room turnouts. Supporting this theory is evidence from Boyd Gaming and other parties that suggests that online poker does not have a cannibalizing effect on a state’s land-based casino business.

To conclude, it appears that the majority of Pennsylvania’s vested interests are standing pat with their wait and see approach to online poker, with a few outliers vying either for or against regulation.

Yet despite the tepid stance of PA’s gambling interests, the gaping $1 billion hole in PA’s budget may ultimately play the determining factor as to whether or not PA passes iGaming legislation this year.

Given the perilous circumstances, tepid may prove just good enough to move forward.

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