American Gaming Association Head Talks Sports Betting, iGaming during PA Casino Visit

While state lawmakers ponder including online gaming as part of a long overdue budget package, the head of a gambling industry trade association stopped by a Pittsburgh casino to voice his support for the legalization of both sports betting and iGaming.

Geoff Freeman, CEO and president of the American Gaming Association (AGA) spoke to officials at Rivers Casino last week as part of an effort to promote the positive effects which casinos can have on an economy.

Legal sports betting on the way

During the visit, he expressed his opinion that sports betting would be legalized across the US in the next 3 to 5 years. Currently, sports betting is only allowed in Nevada, with limited betting permitted in Montana, Delaware and Oregon. Freeman criticized the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the law which made sports wagering illegal across most of the US, calling it a “terribly failed law.”

New Jersey, which was the first US state to legalize online gambling, is leading the charge to do away with the legislation. The Garden State has been rejected twice in a federal court, but has an appeal pending before a US Circuit Court in Philadelphia.

The Keystone State has its eye on repealing the law as well. In February, the PA House Gaming Oversight Committee voted 23-1 to approve a resolution calling for the removal of the act. The move does not have an effect on the law, however, and was passed as a symbolic gesture.

While sports betting is restricted in the US, the AGA estimates that some $9 billion was wagered at unregulated offshore sites during this year’s NCAA March Madness games. Nevada sports books took in around $262 million in legal bets on the series, according to the AGA.

“Just because you have a law that says it’s illegal doesn’t mean it stops. Prohibition we’ve found in this country doesn’t work very well. It certainly doesn’t work with sports betting,” Freeman said. “The next president is going to have that issue of legalizing sports betting on their desk, and I’m confident they will make the right decision.”

‘Free plays’ not so free

Freeman also spoke against a controversial new proposal by Keystone State Gov. Tom Wolf, which seeks to levy a tax on casino free play vouchers sent to customers as a way to entice them back to the tables. The 8% tax would be applied in the hopes of raising an additional $51 million for the 2016-2017 budget.

Freeman says that a reduction in free play rewards could actually have a negative effect on tax revenue, as casinos would be less likely to issue them.

During the visit, Rivers Casino General Manager Craig Clark also voiced his support for online gaming along with additional gambling verticals. “The more products you can have, a broad mix of products, the more complete facility you have. The more people you can attract,” he said.

At the moment, PA lawmakers are hopelessly deadlocked in their attempt to craft a budget suitable to both GOP and Democrat Assemblymembers. Desperate to shore up the state budget, legislators have toyed with the idea of including Assemblymember John Payne’s online gambling bill HB 649 in the package. In January, Payne was very optimistic that at least parts of that legislation would be passed by July.