Four Questions That Might Be Answered At PA’s Online Gambling Hearing

On Wednesday the Pennsylvania Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee (or just CERD for short) will lay all of its cards on the table when it hosts a hearing on comprehensive gambling reform in the Keystone State. The hearing will touch on all of the topics from a new bill introduced on Tuesday, SB 900. SB 900 covers a number of gaming reforms ranging from online gambling to the elimination of the membership fee that Category 3 casinos are required to collect. The new legislation is sponsored by Senator Kim Ward, and cosponsored by all nine Republicans on the CERD Committee which includes Senate President pro tempore Joe Scarnati. The following four questions will hopefully be answered at the hearing, and the answers will likely be a barometer of whether or not online gambling will be included in the state’s upcoming budget for FY2016. 4. Is Parx still calling for in-person registrations? In 2014 Parx Casino took an apathetic view towards online gaming expansion in Pennsylvania. Parx Chairman Bob Green told lawmakers he wasn’t sold on online gaming expansion, but if it was being discussed Parx would be involved in shaping the law and if it passed, Parx would offer online gambling. Parx later partnered with GameAccount Network, one of the few announced partnerships in Pennsylvania. However, in 2015 Parx floated the idea of in-person registrations, which is included in SB 900 and considered anathema to iGaming analysts. If the company is adamant about this restriction, it might derail online gambling expansion as this will be a poison pill to a lot of other casinos. 3. Have any other partnerships been formed? At a previous hearing we learned of the partnership between 888 and Mount Airy Casino, so it’s not out of the question that other partnerships may be informally mentioned or officially announced at Wednesday’s hearing. If new partnerships are talked about in the abstract (more likely) or if a casino representative will name a specific company (less likely), it would be a good sign for online gambling expansion in the state. 2. How much is Sands going to fight PA online gambling? This will likely be more of a “read between the lines” kind of answer, as Sands representative Mark Juliano, the President of Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, will almost certainly tow the company, and Sheldon Adelson’s, line and be vociferously opposed to iGaming. How these protestations are received by the committee will be far more telling than anything Juliano says. If Sands has been pushing behind the scenes, I would expect some lawmakers to bring up these concerns unprompted, and perhaps lead Juliano down the “bash online gambling” trail. On the other hand, if Sands is resigned to online gambling coming to Pennsylvania (which could be the case), the fear-mongering at the hearing may be muted, and lawmakers will likely ignore or even challenge some of Juliano’s assertions. 1. What revenue projections will the state use? The million dollar question will of course be what amount of revenue can Pennsylvania generate from online gambling, and will it be enough to bring Governor Tom Wolf to the bargaining table with some of his tax proposals in hand? This is also important for another reason, as Pennsylvania doesn’t want to come up short in an attempt to shoot the moon, effectively pulling a New Jersey by making revenue predictions the industry simply cannot live up to. Fortunately, even the high-end estimates are nowhere near as ridiculous as New Jersey’s early predictions.

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