Lawmaker Confident Pennsylvania Will Approve Online Gaming by May[ return to main articles page ]
By: Blair Ames [See all articles by Blair Ames]
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As the Pennsylvania legislature continues to consider the prospects of online gaming, the sponsor of the House bill to legalize iGaming remains confident.
Rep. George Dunbar, who has sponsored online gaming legislation in each of the past two years, described the process as being similar to “pushing a rock up a mountain” at times, but the work to legalize online gaming in the Keystone State is almost complete.
“I still believe that by the end of May this will be done,” said Dunbar. “I really believe that all things are in place right now. The ball solely rests in the Senate’s hands.”
Last year, online gaming legislation passed in the state House of Representatives and Dunbar said he has “no qualms” about it passing again.
Pennsylvania has been viewed as more likely than not to pass online gaming legislation this year and a joint hearing on March 7 between the state’s House and Senate committees which oversee gaming was seen as another step in the right direction.
The marathon four-hour hearing included testimony from those for and against online gaming and while Dunbar said some of the speakers early in the meeting just wanted to “blow it up”, he believed that after all parties spoke, the meeting ended up being pretty balanced.
Among those who testified opposing online gaming were Bob Green and Anthony Ricci, the chairman and CEO of Parx Casino, Pennsylvania’s most profitable casino.
In their testimony, Parx argued that online gaming, and the lower tax rate that would be applied to online games would lead to a decline in casino tax revenue. They cite the statistic that two-thirds of Pennsylvanians live within 25 miles of a casino and believe that online gaming would just keep them home instead of visiting their local casino.
But Parx is one of the only casinos in the state opposed gaming expansion as a number of casinos, including representatives of Harrah’s, SugarHouse, and Valley Forge, testified in support of it.
“The reality is everyone has a motivation for something and you have to look for what that motivation is. They (Parx) already have the largest market share in the state and they don’t want to change that,” Dunbar said. “My fear is that if you don’t change you’re going to end up like Atlantic City.”
The Associated Press recently reported that the availability of online gaming in New Jersey has continued to benefit Atlantic City casinos two months into 2017.
As Pennsylvania continues to move forward with deliberations on online gaming, the potential sale of Sands Bethlehem is also seen as positive momentum. Sheldon Adelson, owner of Sands Bethlehem, has been the most vocal critic of online gaming expansion across the country.
“Everyone is very much aware of what is going on there,” Dunbar said of his fellow legislators. “Squelching Adelson will certainly help pass it.”
While there are no hearings or votes on online gaming currently scheduled, expect there to be more action in the coming weeks. Additionally, just prior to March 7 hearing, four senators introduced a bill to legalize online gaming that is identical to Dunbar’s bill in the House.
Projections Positive for Pennsylvania
As Pennsylvania continues to debate online gaming, two reports have shed light on the projected windfall for the Keystone State.
The Innovation Group, who presented their projections at the joint hearing on online gaming, projects Pennsylvania to bring in $413.8 million in 2019, which if approved would be Pennsylvania’s second year in the market. Meanwhile, a report published by Online Poker Report and Play Pennsylvania takes a more cautious approach. They’ve projected Pennsylvania to generate $259 million in revenue in 2019, about $155 million less than the Innovation estimate.