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.

The RAWA Hearing originally scheduled for March 5, 2015 held ominous undertones as the original witness panel was stacked in favor of Sheldon Adelson and his crusade to banish regulated online gambling in the US. Now set for Thursday, March 25, a fifth witness is scheduled to appear, helping to better balance the perspective views on the legislation.

RAWA—or by its official term, The Restoration of America’s Wire Act—is a federal bill that was scripted to reverse the DOJs 2011 opinion of the 1961 Wire Act, making it possible for states to regulate online poker and casino gambling. Funded by Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, RAWA seeks to prohibit iGaming throughout the United States.

The RAWA Hearing (also said to be funded by Adelson) will take place in front of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, which just so happens to seat Representative Jason Chaffetz, who re-introduced RAWA earlier this year. The original panel of speakers for the hearing was set to include just four witnesses, three of which would heavily favor passage of the online gambling ban.

According to the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), the winter storm that delayed the original RAWA Hearing was a blessing in disguise, because it gave the online poker community time to make their voices heard. As such, a fifth witness, Andrew Moylan, was added to the panel.

Official RAWA Hearing Witness List Updated

Mr. John Warren Kindt
Professor Emeritus of Business Administration at University of Illinois School of Law
Mr. Les Bernal
National Director of Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation
Mr. Michael K. Fagan
Adjunct Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law
Mr. Andrew Moylan
Executive Director and Senior Fellow of R Street Institute
Ms. Parry Aftab
Executive Director of Wired Safety

John Kindt poses the biggest threat to the RAWA Hearing for his distinct pattern of radical statements opposing gambling. He has frequently misinterpreted the results of research by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC), and despite being called on it by the American Gaming Association numerous times, he continues to do so. No doubt, his testimony will make every effort to undermine the proficiency of iGaming regulatory systems.

Les Bernal and Michael Fagan won’t speak in favor of online poker, but they have historically based their congressional testimonies on facts (unlike Mr. Kindt). While they do not oppose RAWA, their findings should be based on the regulatory capabilities of online poker and casino systems already present in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey.

Parry Aftab was the Democratic choice to speak at the RAWA Hearing, and will lend a positive voice for the online poker community. She has long advocated internet gambling as a means to protect consumers, and is expected to present a strong, highly educated argument opposing RAWA on Thursday.

Andrew Moylan is the newest addition to the witness panel, and could be the game-saving pinch hitter for online poker advocates.  The R Street Institute is a group of research experts with a libertarian attitude. Mr. Moylan is expected to rebuke RAWA as a violation of state’s rights; the number one argument against the federal legislation, even by those who do not support or oppose online gambling.

John Pappas, Director of the PPA, was tremendously pleased to see Moylan’s name added to the witness list for this week’s RAWA Hearing. “I don’t know Andrew, but I’m familiar with R Street and they have a good reputation for focusing on federalism and 10th amendment issues on a whole lot of subject matters,” said Pappas. I think they will be very credible and a good voice at the hearing.”

On day 1 of the new legislative session in California, Assemblyman Mike Gatto made a bold move, introducing an internet poker bill to state legislators. Officially tagged AB 9, the new California online poker bill seems to be little more than the rehashing of previous attempts, but with a few unique paragraphs added. The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) offered its initial reaction on Thursday, which wasn’t appositive one, but said they need more details before choosing which side of the fence to hop down on.

The key issue for the PPA was a new element that would require online poker players to facilitate certain transactions in person. Once registered, a player would have to make their very first deposit, as well as their first withdrawal, at an authorized land-based facility. Gatto’s California online poker bill also obligates players making a substantial deposit or withdrawal –the actual amount was left blank, although Gatto estimated anywhere from $300 to $10,000 – to make that transaction in person.

AB 9 specifies that licensed casinos would be primary destinations for physical monetary transfers. However, in addition to California casinos and card rooms that hold a license to operate online poker, the measure would sanction smaller casinos around the state to act as “satellite service centers”. Gatto said that, in this manner, every person in California should be no more than 1 hour away from an eligible casino or satellite service center.

According to the Assemblyman, his online poker bill has two major benefits. First, he explained that the deposit/withdrawal requirements would help to boost the land-based gambling industry for both tribal casinos and commercial card rooms, especially supporting smaller, locally owned businesses that may fear cannibalization.

Secondly, the Assemblyman said that facilitating early and sizable transactions in person will help to eliminate underage gambling and money laundering. The Poker Players Alliance was less acquiescent to that second point.

“If [Gatto’s] doing it because he thinks it’s a way to get people into the casino, that’s one thing,” says John Pappas, Director of the PPA. “If he’s doing it because he thinks it’s a way to stop minors from playing or people from fraudulently withdrawing money, he needs to be informed that safeguards already are in place online that not only the Internet poker industry is using but all sorts of e-commerce.”

Pappas wasn’t exactly on board with the idea that Gatto’s online poker bill will increase foot traffic at small casinos and poker rooms either. The PPA believes gambling establishments would have more success if they use online poker to attract new customers that don’t already frequent cards rooms, then use special incentives to bring those new players into the live realm. Smaller casinos and card rooms who join forces with the bigger brands would also be able to increase patronage via similar incentives.

“The problem here,” Pappas explicated, “is that enthusiasts are likely to make that effort, but the average consumer isn’t going to, and I think for the health of the game we need both enthusiasts and the average consumer.” Pappas called the poker industry an “ecosystem”, saying Gatto’s online poker bill, as written, is an “unproven model”.

Furthermore, Pappas questioned the bill’s suitability. “The previous model of people being able to register, deposit, and withdraw all online is proven to work, so why are we creating one more barrier that could perhaps lead to an unsuccessful marketplace?”

Rather than opposing the new California online poker bill right out of the gate, Pappas admitted it’s too soon to take a side. “I think we have to better understand how this would work and get some feedback from the players themselves. From what I’ve understood about how online poker worked successfully in the past, the ability to deposit and withdraw from your computer was paramount.”