PA Senate Grills the Gaming Control Board on Its Ability to Protect Online Gamblers

Last week, the Pennsylvania Senate Community, Economic, and Recreational Development committee (CERD) held a hearing to gauge the state’s readiness to properly protect online gamblers from fraud and security breaches.

Kevin O’Toole of the Pennsylvania Gambling Control Board (PGCB) was the first to speak, expressing his belief that the industry could be safely protected by the agency’s “experienced and capable” officials.

PGCB official Douglas Sherman came next, offering his thoughts on the Wire Act and the DOJ’s decision to allow states to legalize online poker if they so choose. Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey have already opened up their state to the industry, but some are worried that the Sheldon Adelson backed legislation, Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), could reverse those initiatives.

In fact, Sherman hopes to expedite the legalization process in the case that federal legislation like RAWA is passed. In that scenario, if the industry was already legalized, the state could make a case for being grandfathered in without having to close shop.

O’Toole stated that if legalized, iGaming sites could open up shop in 9 to 12 months. He also highlighted that geolocation technology, which assures players are within the state’s borders, is up to the task of fencing in the games.

Pennsylvania lawmakers have worried that online gaming sites would cannibalize the state’s brick-and-mortar casino revenue. Witnesses at the hearing failed to mention that such research has already been conducted on New Jersey’s iGaming market, and found that most online players did not frequent land-based casinos.

Problem gambling

The PGCB’s Ken Martz brought up the issue of problem gamblers and noted that existing casinos already contribute $150,000 a year to address the issue. He worried that the ability to access online gambling from any Internet connected device would lead to more addicted gamblers. Research has been conducted on this issue as well, and has found that rates of problem gambling do not increase dramatically with the introduction of iGaming.

This is the second Internet gambling hearing the CERD committee has held this month. In the previous session, lawmakers discussed the viability of Sen. Kim Ward’s online gambling bill, SB 900. That hearing was largely positive, with representatives from the industry debunking myths and demonstrating how effective existing security technology can be.

Several iGaming bills have been introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature this year. Unlike California, momentum seems to be building for the Commonwealth to legalize online gambling at some point in the near future.