The Patriot-News is a leading newspaper out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania—the state capitol—where political matters make the headlines more often than Cat Williams says the “F” word. On Friday, the Editorial Board published a dogmatic op-ed in which they urged state legislators to pass an online poker law, not just because it would greatly benefit PA’s enormous budget deficit, but ‘because they can’.

“Pennsylvania legislators should pass an online gaming bill in June both because the state needs to close a seemingly insurmountable budget gap in the next fiscal year, and, simply, because it can,” read the op-ed.

The editorial quickly pointed out that Pennsylvania is facing an estimated general fund deficit of $2 billion in the coming fiscal year. The board referred to the deficit as “troubling for its potential impact to the state’s current and future debt.”

While the writers claim to be under no false pretenses that passing an online poker law will suddenly fix all of the financial problems in Pennsylvania, they do believe it will “help ease the deficit.” However, they also pointed out that, even if a bill were passed this month, online gambling wouldn’t likely generate any revenue until “late next year or 2017”.

Patriot-News calls for passage of PA online poker lawThe op-ed compared probable revenue from online gambling in PA to that of the existing market in New Jersey. We all know that iGaming was a disappointment in the Garden State, harvesting a mere fraction of the tax dollars that Gov. Chris Christie had anticipated. However, the state did pull in $18.5 million from regulated online poker and casino games.

“The Garden State’s revenues are rising this year, though, and Pennsylvania, with 43 percent more state residents 21 years of age or older, stands to gain more tax dollars with similar legislation,” read the publication.

The Editorial Board noted that Pennsylvania is greatly lacking in public pension funding, and there’s not nearly enough left in the budget to pay for the much-needed reconstruction of crumbling roads and bridges. “Although Pennsylvania will not realize huge benefits by entering online gaming, it cannot afford to ignore a legitimate revenue source.”

The op-ed went on to criticize legislators for ignoring what could have been a vast source of state income in the way of severance taxes on natural gas extraction. “If Pennsylvania continues to refuse to realize tax revenue on a finite resource, one for which significant profits are earned daily by companies outside the state, it must find revenue elsewhere.” The editorial went on to call online gambling, “a resource Pennsylvania should mine now.”

Most Viable PA Online Poker Law

There are currently four propositions on the table to get an online poker law in place. The one that’s expected to receive the most attention (i.e. voted most likely to succeed) is HB 649, introduced by House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman and State Representative John Payne. That also happens to be the online poker law most strongly endorsed by the newspaper.

“Legislation sponsored by Rep. John Payne…would legalize and regulate online gaming and it is worthy of consideration.”

The writers noted a report by in which the analytical website said online gaming “is not legalized but Pennsylvania residents that gamble online are not likely to be prosecuted because the state is very lenient about their online gambling laws.”

The underlying problem therein is that PA residents are gambling online, but they are doing so in a potentially unsafe, unregulated environment. Plus, their dollars are flowing into offshore websites that aren’t subject to taxation that could be benefiting the state.

Passage of an online poker law to enforce regulations that include “geolocation, technology that permits a website to see the physical location of a computer, tablet, or smartphone, and restrict access if the user is outside Pennsylvania,” could change all that.

“Pennsylvania has the means, the motive, and the opportunity to pass online gaming legislation before the end of this budget cycle,” wrote the Editorial Board. “Its elected state representatives should pull the trigger so the state can capture tax dollars it is losing to external operators while protecting its youth.”

Thanks to an all-inclusive PA online gambling bill introduced by Rep. John Payne earlier this year, the Pennsylvania House Committee on Gaming Oversight—Chaired by Payne—held a public meeting yesterday to discuss the pros and cons of regulation. As usual, Sheldon Adelson’s crony, Andy Abboud, was on hand to spread trepidation throughout the room, but testimony from industry experts and technologists prevailed.Gaming Oversight Committee meets for PA Online Gambling Hearing

Andy Abboud churned out his all-too-common, long winded fear mongering speech, warning of the harms online gambling would bring to society, the inability to successfully thwart underage gambling or regulate the industry, and of course, Sheldon Adelson’s favorite, ‘click your mouse, lose your house’ spiel.

He even tried insinuating that the reversal of the Wire Act opinion in 2011 by the Department of Justice was bought and paid for by the gambling industry. One must wonder how many attendants of the PA online gambling hearing had to hold back audible laughter at that ridiculous implication, ironic because the federal anti-online gambling bill, RAWA, would not be circulating congress right now if it weren’t for Adelson’s deep pockets.

But one after another, witnesses at the PA online gambling hearing shot down Abboud’s arguments. Heading up that campaign was John Pappas, Director of the Poker Players Alliance, who found so many holes in Abboud’s testimony that he produced an 8-page document refuting 18 of his claims, cleverly titled “Andy Abboud’s Testimony of Myths”.

“Sands’ testimony today is a house of cards that is more about fear mongering than providing the Committee with meaningful insights on how to best protect consumers,” Pappas told the panel. “It’s clear that they are not really concerned about Pennsylvania citizens’ safety, but rather the corporation’s bottom line.

“The PPA will continue to share the facts with Pennsylvania lawmakers on why a licensed and regulated online gaming market is the best and only way to ensure citizens are protected through a system that is accountable to regulators and the government.”

The Director continued pounding away at Adelson’s crony by pointing out that his Pennsylvania casino, Sands Bethlehem, has come under fire, and penalty of fine, on multiple occasions for permitting underage patrons to gamble at the establishment. Pappas went on to highlight the fact that Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands (LVS) properties in Nevada proudly advertise mobile sports and casino gambling to visitors.

Panelists were quick to respond to the numerous accusations against Abboud’s testimony. Rep. Tina Davis, who introduced one of three PA online gambling bills in 2015, inquired of the Sands’ representative what fines LVS has paid to state regulators.

In his response, Abboud made no effort to actually answer the question. In fact, side-stepping questions became a distinct pattern for Adelson’s crony, so much so that Rep. Payne eventually reprimanded him, requesting that he keep his responses specific to the subject of each question.

A representative of geo-location service provider GeoComply, Lindsey Slater, offered a stellar hands-on presentation of how her company is able to precisely pin-point the physical location of online gambling account holders. In a real-time demonstration of the high-tech systems, she validated the supreme accuracy of the technology by identifying two internet gamers at a Starbucks in New Jersey, seated on opposite ends of the coffee shop.

“We have it pretty much down to a building level. You can see what part of Starbucks you logged in from and, yes, we also know what you did last summer,” quipped Slater.

That raised another question aimed at Abboud in regards to how the Sands’ can promote mobile betting within its Nevada casinos, yet oppose online gambling in the rest of the country. In typical fashion, he avoided giving a straight answer, but did concede to the fact that Sands is able to use geo-location technology to determine without a doubt whether players are located within the boundaries of an LVS property.

Testimonies in favor of PA online gambling continued to flow in. Michael Pollock of Spectrum Gaming Group presented the panel with successful regulatory experiences from New Jersey, David Satz of Caesars Entertainment heralded online gambling for its ability to document, monitor and audit all aspects of the games, and Chris Sheffield of Penn National Gaming proclaimed the myriad job opportunities regulation would provide the state.

Kevin Mullaly, VP of Government Relations for Gaming Laboratories International, praised the strength of the online gambling industry’s security measures, identifying them as the same form of security implemented by online banking websites and other financially driven markets.

In fact, Mullaly offered one of the most rational assessments ever made at any state or federal hearing revolved around the issue when he said, “Online gambling is simply a modernization of the delivery of content that your land-based casinos already have the legal right to offer.”

When all was said and done, it was obvious that supporters of PA online gambling clearly won the day’s battle. A second hearing to discuss PA online gambling regulation is scheduled for May 6, 2015.