The first informative meeting of the current Pennsylvanian legislative session will likely hear the same arguments for and against an expansion of gambling.
Later this afternoon, Pennsylvania´s House Gaming Oversight Committee and Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Committee will hold a joint public hearing to “gather information from gaming industry stakeholders”.
The objective of the meeting is for members of the two committees to learn more about the options for an expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania and to decide how best to deal with the Local Share Tax issue. As well as hearing from interested parties, the Representatives and Senators will have the chance to question those presenting their arguments at the hearing.
Haven´t We Been Here Before?
You would be forgiven for having a sense of déjà vu about today´s hearing. Most of the committee members have heard all the arguments for and against the options available for the expansion of gambling, and many familiar faces will be in attendance in Harrisburg when the hearing gets underway at 2:00pm local time.
The “gaming industry stakeholders” scheduled to present testimony include a couple of representatives from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (no doubt after a bigger budget), representatives from six of the state´s brick-and-mortar casinos and a handful of industry professionals from various sectors of the online gambling industry.
The industry professional include representatives from Amaya and GeoComply, who hopefully will get a grilling over the $25,000 fine issued by New Jersey´s Division of Gaming Enforcement for allowing out-of-state gamblers to place bets on PokerStarsNJ.com. Light relief at the hearing will be provided by John Pappas from the PPA and David Cookson from the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.
Has Anything Changed Since Last Year?
Quite a bit – but not a lot that will get discussed at today´s hearing. Since last year´s failed attempts to pass online gambling legislation in Pennsylvania, there has been a change of administration at federal level and, more significantly for online gambling, a change of Attorney General – who may or may not revisit the Department of Justice´s 2011 opinion of the Wire Act.
There has also been growing support in favor of regulating Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs) in bars and clubs. Supporters claim that the regulation of VGTs would be easier to implement than online gambling (as there are an estimated 40,000 VGTs already operating in Pennsylvania), that VGTs would raise more revenues than online gambling, and – as VGT players are not considered to be casino patrons – there would be no cannibalization of the brick-and-mortar industry as feared by Governor Wolf.
One other change that may influence the direction of today´s proceedings is new chairmen at the head of both committees. Following John Payne´s retirement, Scott Petri has taken over the role of top dog on the House Gaming Oversight Committee (Petri voted against online gambling legislation last year), while Mario Scavello has replaced Kim Ward as chairman of the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Committee. Scavello is reported to be bullish about the prospects for online gambling in Pennsylvania.
Will it be Déjà Vu All Over Again?
Although Senator Scavello has commented he expects some progress towards online gambling legislation in March, there are plenty of issues to be resolved before everybody is singing from the same song sheet. The discrepancy in tax rates between the proposals introduced into the Senate in January and those introduced into the House in February are a major sticking point that could affect whether online poker is financially justifiable.
The Penn National Casino – who will not be represented at today´s hearing – has also voiced an objection to out-of-state operators teaming up with brick-and-mortar casinos to provide an online service. The objected – if accepted – would prevent PokerStars, 888Poker and WSOP.com from participating in a regulated market and would likely obstruct plans to form a compact with neighboring New Jersey.
As usual, it will be a case of wait and see to find out what, if anything, comes out of today´s joint committee hearing.