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Pennsylvania Schedules Another Online Poker Hearing

Lawmakers To Hash Out Details Of I-Gaming Proposal

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Momentum continues to build for Pennsylvania to legalize online casino gaming this year.

As neighboring New York tries to beat it to the finish line, Pennsylvania lawmakers will meet again on Mar. 28 to discuss the merits of allowing the state’s 12 casinos to offer their games over the web. This hearing will happen in front of the state’s House Gaming Oversight Committee.

All but two of the dozen casinos think online gambling would benefit the state’s casino industry. However, one of those two has found a new buyer. MGM, a major backer of online gaming efforts in New York, has agreed to purchase Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Bethlehem casino.

That would leave just Parx Casino, located outside Philadelphia, as the lone opponent to online betting. Parx testified at a hearing last week that online casinos could cannibalize existing revenues.

The problem is that the state’s $3 billion casino gambling market hasn’t grown much over the past six years. Pennsylvania saw its first casino open in 2006.

Pennsylvania has a live poker market worth nearly $60 million a year, about twice the market in New Jersey. The Garden State has had online poker since 2013.

It was said at the hearing that state officials have met more than 80 times over the past two years to discuss ways to shore up the state’s industry in the face of competition from nearby states. Pennsylvania gets more than 50 percent of slot machine revenue generated by its casinos, which makes it a majority stakeholder and provides major incentive for lawmakers to protect the market.

It’s been estimated that online gambling could add about $300 million to the existing gambling market, which would be about 10 percent. New Jersey’s $200 million online gambling market adds nearly 10 percent to Atlantic City gaming win.

A wrinkle was thrown into the online casino plans this week when a group of five lawmakers introduced a bill that seeks to do the opposite of legalization. The bill is intended to establish consumer protections through criminalization rather than regulation. But, as online poker backers have argued over the years, prohibition doesn’t work.

Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said “real work is being done” on the internet gaming issue. A budget proposal put forth by Wolf calls for $250 million from gambling expansion. Online casinos would generate $10 million for the state per licensee, in addition to tax revenue. Proposed rates have ranged from 15-25 percent.

Another component of the gambling expansion package is allowing potentially thousands of additional slot machines peppered throughout the state. That idea is largely opposed by the state’s casino industry. That means that online gambling could be the only way to generate that additional $250 million for the state’s coffers.