PA Gaming Control Board to Ban Online Poker in Casinos

Posted on by John Lathram

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB)A document recently released by Pennsylvania´s Gaming Control Board states that Keystone State residents aged 21 years or older will be able to gamble online from any location within the state´s borders – except when they are physically present in a brick-and-mortar casino.

Imagine the scenario. You are playing in a live poker tournament at the Parx Casino and there is plenty of tanking going on as the bubble approaches. You take out your smartphone to spin up a few hands of Parx Online Poker and find you are unable to log in.

You bring your technical issue to the attention of casino staff and find that it is not a technical issue at all – you have been geo-blocked, even though you are well within state lines and likely within fifty yards of the gaming server. Unfortunately this is not some nightmare scenario imagined by an opponent of regulated online gambling. It is a regulation being introduced by Pennsylvania´s Gaming Control Board.

Definitely not “Hasty”, but Certainly “Ill-Conceived”

Last year, the Pennsylvania General Assembly authorized an expansion of gambling that included online gambling, satellite casinos, and Video Gaming Terminals in selected truck stops. The legislation has multiple flaws and was described as “ill-conceived and hasty” by Eric Shippers – the Senior VP for Public Affairs at Penn National (among many others).

Pennsylvania´s Gaming Control Board has definitely not been “hasty” in the development of online gambling regulations and the licensing process for operators; but it has recently published an iGaming FAQ (PDF) explaining some of the criteria under which Internet gambling will be allowed. The FAQ includes answers to questions such as:

  • What types of games will be allowed?
  • Who can apply for online gambling licenses?
  • Where will online gambling will be allowed?
  • What procedures will be in place to prevent underage and problem gambling?
  • How will tax revenues be distributed?

Under the section relating to “Where will online gambling be allowed?” the FAQ states systems will be put in place using GPS software and IP address identification to ensure players are physically located within Pennsylvania when logging into a regulated online gambling site. The document adds: In addition, participating in internet gaming when in a Pennsylvania casino will also be blocked.

The Motives and Consequences of the Ill-Conceived Regulation

The motives behind banning online poker in brick-and-mortar casinos are a nod to legislators who argued the regulation of online gambling would cannibalize the brick-and-mortar casino industry. Whether or not the arguments are justified, they resulted in the legislature applying a similar tax rate to online casino games as brick-and mortar casino games.

The blocking of access to online casinos within a brick-and-mortar casino does seem to be an excessive overreaction – especially as any decline in casino revenues will likely come from an over-saturation of gambling opportunities in Pennsylvania. As has been seen in New York – where brick-and-mortar casinos have failed to live up to their revenue expectations – there is only so much money to go around.

As far as players are concerned, the plan to ban online poker in casinos will have little impact. After overcoming the initial shock of being unable to log into Parx Online Poker while in the Parx Casino, players have plenty of unregulated options to choose from. The only real consequence of the ill-conceived regulation is that online casinos and the state will suffer a loss of revenue.

Didn´t Pennsylvania Ban Unregulated Poker Sites?

Officially yes. In the gambling expansion Act passed last year, it is stated no person shall serve or attempt to serve as an interactive gaming operator without first obtaining an interactive gaming license from the board. However, it is an unenforceable law and – under Title 18, Chapter 55, § 5513 of the Pennsylvania Code – the crime constitutes a misdemeanor of the first degree and carries a $250 fine.

Regulation hasn´t stopped players in other states logging into offshore poker sites. Indeed, during last year´s World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, it was reported there were more players logging into offshore poker sites than the state´s regulated site. There are no penalties in Pennsylvanian law for playing at offshore poker sites, and – due to lower rake, higher traffic, more valuable tournaments and better VIP programs – many will likely continue to do so, whether they are in a brick-and-mortar casino or not.