Monday April 27,2015 : BUSY WEEK AHEAD FOR PENNSYLVANIAN POLITICIANS (Update)
Committee hearings aplenty on internet gambling and a response to the challenges of neighbouring competitors.
Pennsylvania Representative John Payne's Gaming Oversight Committee has a busy week ahead, with hearings in the legislature and out at two land casinos, where it will consider measures to help land casinos meet the challenges from neighbouring states, and discuss the legalization of online gambling.
The hearings start today (Monday) with a hearing on internet gambling in Harrisburg and continue on Tuesday afternoon at the Mount Airy Casino Resort, and on Wednesday afternoon at the Mohegan Sun Pocono, both in the north east of the state.
North Eastern Representatives on Payne's committee include Rosemary Brown (Republican), Marty Flynn (Democrat), Aaron Kaufer (Republican), Sid Michaels Kavulich (Democrat), Jerry Knowles (Republican) and David Parker (Republican).
The discussions will be wide ranging in order to cover all the options regarding inter-state competition and internet gambling of all genres, reports the state publication Times Shamrock.
Local media reports suggest that agenda items will include a revision of current laws in order to encourage more tavern small games licenses, and the legalization of video games for social clubs.
Rep. Payne, the Republican chairman of the committee who has already introduced an online gambling legalization bill to the Legislature (see previous InfoPowa reports) told reporters that the goal is to produce a package of bills by early June that would help Pennsylvania casinos remain competitive and generate new revenue.
The spectre of casinos closing in Atlantic City is a motivation for Pennsylvania to examine its own industry, Payne commented, adding:
“What do I have to do to make sure we don’t have casinos close? We should look at this and see if what we passed in 2004 is still pertinent.”
Talking about his internet bill, Rep. Payne said: “Expanding the business to the Internet would help to grow Pennsylvania’s gaming industry for the future, as research shows online gaming patrons become new visitors to casinos.”
However, one of his committee members is not supportive; Representative Sid Michaels Kavulich has questioned the need for legalised internet gambling, saying: “I think it will take away from the brick and mortar casinos,” but suggesting that sports betting could generate new business especially during the Super Bowl and March Madness.
“It can bring a whole new crowd into the casinos,” he claimed.
Representative Aaron Kaufer, a Republican member of the committee, stressed that it was important that realistic revenue forecasts were made for any changes to avoid "over selling" the potential benefits as had happened in New Jersey.
Land casino operators are taking an active interest in Rep. Payne's committee proceedings, submitting a letter jointly to stress that the continued success of Pennsylvania’s gaming industry is at significant risk because of increased competition from other states.
“Since achieving a record high total of more than $1.4 billion in gaming tax revenue in 2012, gaming tax revenue slipped to $1.38 billion in 2013 and $1.32 billion in 2014,” the letter claimed.
Although divided on the desirability of internet gambling, land operators are more comfortable with expanding casino gaming if it is confined to existing licensees.
They would like to see the demise of the already authorised third land casino licence in the state; the expansion of selling hours for liquor; faster state approval for new types of slot machines and electronic table games; and tax breaks that encourage investment in corporate expansion.
While casino owners are divided on the merits of Internet gaming, they support limiting any expansion of casino-like gaming to existing casinos; eliminating the authorised third state resort casino licence; expanding hours for liquor sales; speeding up state approval for new types of slot machines and electronic table games; and granting state tax credits to encourage casinos to invest in and update their facilities and equipment.
Last year the Legislature conducted a study of how to respond to neighbouring competition, recommending that certain state regulations on land casinos be relaxed to assist local operators.