Pennsylvania Senate Panel Studying the Advantages of Licensed Online Gambling
A Pennsylvania Senate panel is considering the benefits of online gambling, according to the Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau. If the panel decides to approve such a plan, a bill might reach the Senate floor later in 2014.
The legislators hired a Philadelphia firm, Econsult Solutions, to analyze and report on the potential revenues Pennsylvania from Internet gambling. Econsult Solutions’ president, Stephen Mullin, estimates that the state gaming facilities could produce revenues of $180 million per year in the first year and $300 million in subsequent fiscal years.
Estimating a 20% tax of online poker sites and a 60% tax on online slots, Econsult believes the state could produce as much as $68 million in tax revenues the first year, and $113 million in subsequent years.
Budget Deficit Could Help iGaming
The state’s budget deadline approaches on June 30, so the panel’s report might become a major source of interest in the coming weeks. Pennsylvania faces a projected shortfall of over $1 billion. On Monday of this week, it was reported that the May general fund collections had come up short of estimates by $108 million.
Joe Scarnati Supports Online Gaming Revenues
Given the budget shortfall, a number of lawmakers are beginning to view the gaming revenues project as a legitimate option. Senate president pro tem Joe Scarnati says the online gambling needs to be considered. Scarnati told a local paper, “a lot less painful than some of the other choices that are going to be out there.”
Robert Tomlinson Wishes to Protect Land Casinos
Republican State Senator Robert Tomlinson of Bucks has champions the installation of slot machines in Pennsylvania gaming facilities over the year. Tomlinson wants to make sure iGaming would not harm the brick-and-mortar gambling businesses in Pennysylvania. Even if those assurances are made, though, Tomlinson says that the budgetary advantages are so small that they do not warrant rushing a new system into place. Tomlinson suggested the legislature should not rush into any system.
Governor Corbett’s Reaction
Governor Tom Corbett has his reservations about a new online gaming bill. He’s concerned about protections for underaged gamblers and problem gamblers. A spokesman for the House Republicans stated iGaming “is not even on our radar screen”, while a Democratic spokesman said their side would need to see more details.
Some of the concerns can be addressed fairly easily. Online gaming software is designed to block many underage gamblers. Given the need for credit cards or some other electronic payment method to use the service, a certain hurdle is placed for teenage gamblers, so long as parents monitor their spending habits.
Problem Gambling Protections
If the governor’s concerns are to be met, a new bill would need to include provisions for a self-exclusion list. Such lists allow gamblers to sign their name to a list which bans them for a certain period of time from playing at any gaming venues in the state. A common system in other states and countries allows players to ban themselves for 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, or a lifetime. New Jersey has a separate list for online casinos and land-based casinos. Of course, gamblers can exclude themselves from both.
One might wonder why a problem gambler would ban themselves. The compulsion to gamble often gets worse in the middle of a gaming session. The gambler simply cannot walk away from the game, either because they want to hit the big jackpot, double their winnings, or win back what they’re lost. Before they play, such people are often much more realistic about their problem, than when their adrenaline is flowing.
The issues facing the state might call for politicians to tap the online gambling revenue resource. But the New Jersey experiment hasn’t netted the expected revenues, so this might dampen enthusiasm a bit. Still, every dollar counts and iGaming is a way to make up $100 million or so of the deficit. While online gambling isn’t likely to be passed before June 30, it might get a look in the fall session of the legislature.