The Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee and the Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee will hold a joint hearing on Tuesday. The subject? They will discuss a number of potential gambling expansions the state is considering.
The hearing could be a pivotal moment not only for online gambling legalization in Pennsylvania, but across the United States.
Who will be testifying at the hearing
The hearing will be comprehensive, as it was allotted two hours on the schedule. That’s at least twice as long as the typical online gambling hearing in recent years.
It features an extensive witness list including two representatives from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board: Executive Director Kevin O’Toole, and Chief Counsel Doug Sherman.
The witness list also includes representatives from six of the state’s 12 casinos (a seventh casino, Mount Airy, submitted written testimony):
- David Satz, Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Development, Caesars Entertainment
- Bob Green, Chairman, Parx Casino
- Anthony Ricci, Chief Executive Officer, Parx Casino
- Richard Schwartz, President, Rush Street Interactive
- Wendy Hamilton, General Manager, SugarHouse Casino
- Eric Pearson, Chief Executive Officer, Valley Forge Casino Resort
- Donn Mitchell, Chief Administrative Officer, Isle of Capri Casinos
Missing from the list are:
- Sands Bethlehem (although there is a Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling representative who will testify)
- Meadows Casino
- Penn National
- Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs
- Lady Luck Nemacolin
The joint committee will also hear from several industry experts and lobbyists:
- Anna Sainsbury, Chief Executive Officer, GeoComply
- Nicholas Menas, Vice President of Corporate Development and Government Affairs, AMAYA
- John Pappas, Executive Director, Poker Players Alliance
- Paul Irvin, Associate, The Innovation Group
- Ira Gubernick, Member of Cozen O’Connor on behalf of the Coalition for a Safe and Regulated Internet
- David Cookson, ESQ, Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling
More of the same from CSIG
The sole voice of opposition appears to be David Cookson, an assistant attorney general in Nebraska under former Attorney General Jon Bruning who now works for his former boss at Bruning Law, a lobbying group representing the Sheldon Adelson-backed CSIG.
Based on Cookson’s submitted testimony (which includes a lot of fear-mongering about potential job loss and at-risk groups gaining access without providing any evidence to back up the claims), and the way CSIG talking points have been refuted by other witnesses in the past, Mr. Cookson’s testimony will likely be disregarded almost as soon as it’s spoken.
The submitted testimony by Caesars’ David Satz (among others) invalidates most of Cookson’s talking points. Satz has the data and experience to back up his comments, since Caesars has been operating online gambling websites in Nevada and New Jersey since 2013.
According to Satz’s written testimony:
“CIE’s NJ experience: 80% of online players are new customers; 42% who were TR customers were inactive customers who re-activated after signing up online.”
So much for cannibalization of land-based gambling.
Where will Parx come down?
One of the unanswered questions when it comes to online gambling in Pennsylvania is the level of support (or lack thereof) of Parx Casino.
Over the past few years Parx Chairman Bob Green has been noncommittal when it comes to online gambling legalization. Green’s comments tend to indicate Parx will be involved with online gambling if the state legalizes it, but until the state legalizes online gambling, you’ll have to drag Parx kicking and screaming over the finish line.
What else to watch for on PA online gambling
In addition to the statements from Parx, it will be important to focus in on the lines of questioning from the committee members, particularly the members from the Senate, who have been more resistant to passing an online gambling bill. How the committee members interact with witnesses, and what concerns (if any) they still harbor will be a good barometer for online gambling’s chances going forward.
Key senators to watch will be:
- The new chairman of the CERD Committee, Mario Scavello;
- Kim Ward. Ward chaired the CERD Committee last year and did not take up the gambling bill passed by the House in the summer;
- Robert Tomlinson. Tomlinson floated a letter late last year in which he stressed caution when it comes to online gambling. Tomlinson previously wanted to impose a 54 percent tax rate on online gambling, which is a complete non-starter for the industry.
It will also be worth keeping an eye on the new chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, Scott Petri. Petri has been playing his cards close to his vest when it comes to online gambling, but he did vote against both online gambling bills last year.