Pennsylvania Emerging As The New Battleground State For Online Gambling Regulation

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Pennsylvania is considered the quintessential battleground state when it comes to presidential elections, but the Keystone State is fast becoming the battleground on another front as well, online gambling expansion in the United States. While the anti-online gaming crowd can wage its war each and every time a new state explores iGaming expansion, Pennsylvania is starting to look like a must-win for the pro-legalization side, at least in the near term. Why 2015 and Pennsylvania matter If Pennsylvania passes an online gambling bill in 2015, it has the real potential to relight the fuse in other locales that were once strong contenders but more recently have shied away from iGaming. It could also cause New Jersey to reexamine entering into an interstate agreement with Nevada and Delaware. If Pennsylvania can’t get a bill passed this year, it pushes not only itself, but likely every state back a year. In that event, other states will almost certainly continue to take the “wait and see” approach, particularly if New Jersey continues to remain independent and the markets in the U.S. remain small and balkanized. With so much on the line it should come as no surprise that Pennsylvania newspapers have been alight with online gaming op-eds and polling data extolling the virtues of – and condemning the ills of – online gaming. CSIG chimes in The first op-ed salvo in Pennsylvania came from a familiar voice in the anti-online gambling movement, former Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln, which PennLive.com ran on May 15. Lincoln, a CSIG (Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling) co-chair, was last seen spouting nonsense on FOX News’ Huckabee and spent most of her PennLive op-ed to emit faux anti-gambling talking points that have become the former Arkansas Senator turned lobbyist’s calling card since she hitched her lobbying wagon to Sheldon Adelson’s anti-online gambling group. Lincoln’s op-ed was simply a rehashing of several previous columns penned by CSIG (virtually every point having been debunked) and didn’t receive much attention. Lincoln’s words likely rang hollow in Pennsylvania, where she is basically seen as nothing more than a paid lobbyist with no Pennsylvania connections throwing in her two cents where it’s not wanted. Bill sponsors make the case for legalization As is often the case when a newspaper prints an op-ed on a divisive issue, it allows for rebuttals, and the rebuttal PennLive.com printed was written by people with a lot of skin in the game, the sponsors of Pennsylvania’s online gaming bill HB 649. Representatives John Payne and Nick Kotik penned the most significant op-ed on the subject in a May 27 op-ed in PennLive.com, which as this column demonstrates is quickly becoming the preferred theatre of war for dueling op-eds and opposing polling data. You can find breakdowns of the strongly worded Payne/Kotik op-ed here, here, and here. Editorial boards jump into the PA online gambling fray The newspapers themselves are also lining up and picking sides. In addition to the Payne/Kotik op-ed, the Penn Live editorial board has come out in favor of legalization. On the other side is the Delaware County Daily Times, which posted an editorial against online gaming, as did the Times-Leader. Polls on top of polls on top of polls In addition to the editorials and op-eds, Pennsylvania’s newspapers have also been filled with polling data commissioned by both sides of the online gaming fight, which surprise, surprise, produced diametrically different results. The first poll appeared in early May, and purported to show Pennsylvanians were staunchly opposed to online gambling regulation. This poll was commissioned by CSIG, and a deeper look into the polling questions revealed some serious flaws in the methodology of the polling company, Harper Polling, which both Nate Silver and Nate Cohn have questioned in the past. As OnlinePokerReport.com’s Chris Grove found, asking the same basic question but removing all of the extraneous statements about the ills of online gambling led to quite different results. In addition to Grove’s findings, a later poll commissioned by Caesars Entertainment, one of the companies pushing for Pennsylvania to legalize online gambling, showed support for regulation among the state’s residents. Ramifications Considering the amount of attention Pennsylvania’s press is giving this issue, it’s a safe bet that online gambling isn’t simply being “talked about” in the legislature. This appears to be the real deal, and online gambling is likely to be a major conversation in the legislature’s budget talks. It also lends a lot of credibility to the buzz from inside the gaming industry surrounding online gaming expansion in Pennsylvania.

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