7 Positive Takeaways From Pennsylvania Senate iGaming Hearing

Steve Ruddock June 4, 2014

On Tuesday the Pennsylvania State Senate’s Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee held an online gaming hearing (which at the end of the day was more of a gaming hearing as Brick & mortar concerns were also heavily discussed) and while I’m still left with the distinct impression that Pennsylvania isn’t quite ready for online expansion in 2014 there were some positive takeaways.

Lawmakers seemed more informed

One of the most noticeable takeaways I had from last month’s online gaming hearing in front of the Democratic Policy Committee was the lack of understanding with regards to online gambling that was on display by virtually every lawmaker in attendance.

Fortunately that was not the case this time around, as it seems several senators were well-read on the topic and asked important, thoughtful questions. Among the state senators who appeared to have done their homework were Senators Tomlinson and Vulakovich.

The cannibalization and other arguments are getting through

As I watch and listen to more and more of these hearings I’ve noticed that less time is wasted spent explaining already debunked myths about online gambling.

Money laundering barely got a mention yesterday, and seems to be an issue that even Sheldon Adelson and his Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling have moved on from, and even though it was brought up several times the cannibalization of land-based casinos argument continues to not only be downplayed, but empirical data to the contrary continues to come to light.

It would appear that the educational efforts iGaming supporters have been engaged in are working.

The Grandfather effect

This one requires a bit more reading into and speculation, but based on the testimony of multiple witnesses it seems as if the general consensus with regards to a potential ban at the federal level is that the states that have already passed online gambling bills prior to a federal ban will be grandfathered in.

While a federal ban still seems like an extreme long shot at this point, this type of loophole is important in two regards:

  1. It shows that legal opinions have potentially been offered/sought that would make a federal ban challengeable in court – at least in some people’s opinions
  2. It forces legislators to act sooner rather than later in order to get out in front of the potential ban, and makes this a major selling point of 2014 or perhaps 2015 expansion

There was quite a bit of poker-only talk

While this isn’t a positive per se (especially if you are a proponent of comprehensive iGaming expansion), the few mentions of poker-only (most notably by the representatives of Caesars and Hollywood Park) shows there is a coordinated effort in Pennsylvania considering the announcement that a poker-only bill will soon be introduced in both the Senate and the Assembly.

Caesars seems to be moving towards a poker-only vision of online gambling expansion at present, rumored to be behind both the Pennsylvania iPoker bills as well as the poker-only bill being floated at the federal level, and it appears they have some allies for poker-only in PA.

When asked about their support of poker-only legislation Caesars’ Michael Cohen said it was akin to “dipping their toes” and called it a “first step.”

Abboud got at least one challenger

At least one Senator wasn’t buying what Andy Abboud was selling on Tuesday.

As is usually the case (for reasons I can only guess at) Andy Abboud was basically given the last word on the panel and allowed to run roughshod as he spun his usual web of cherry-picked and in some cases false data.

Nobody specifically called him out during the Q&A portion of the panel, but Senator Randy Vulakovich did imply that Abboud was not being entirely forthcoming when it came to the reasons behind his and Las Vegas Sands’ opposition to iGaming expansion.

Vulakovich first asked Abboud how he could be “so certain” that online gambling would be as bad as he was predicting, considering everyone else on the panel had a more cautious and unknown outlook. Vulakovich then closed his remarks by making the astute and accusatory observation: You’re against iGaming but “you’re in the gaming industry… interesting.”

Abboud tripped up again

Andy Abboud made several missteps that will likely provide fodder against the anti-online gambling crowd in the coming days, weeks and months, as every factually incorrect statement and every logical and illogical fallacy they attribute to online gambling keeps hacking away at their credibility.

This time around Abboud (perhaps in response to yours truly who has made this argument on several occasions) said online gaming supporters have been using the fact that there hasn’t been one reported case of underage gambling online (he left out his own company’s less than perfect brick & mortar track record in this regard) was a sign that it was in fact happening.

While I understand the point he is making, this argument is no different than saying that because nobody has ever seen a unicorn they obviously exist.

Perhaps an even more egregious flub was Abboud’s head-scratching proclamation that Nevada (the first state in the US to pass an online gambling bill and the first state to launch an online poker site) was in fact the third state to do so.

I’m not sure precisely what Abboud means by this, so my best guess is he is one of a significant number of Americans who thinks Canada and perhaps France are part of the United States.

Nothing is 100%

Abboud also continues to make the foolish argument that because something cannot be regulated and safeguarded 100% it shouldn’t be regulated at all. Nothing in this world is 100%.

Will there be instances of cheating, underage gambling, problem gambling, perhaps even money laundering online? Of course, but these isolated incidents shouldn’t be used to make a case against regulation, which will help prevent more of these things from happening than they will cause.

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