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Online gambling on the radar of Pennsylvania officials

| Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, 11:56 p.m.

Pennsylvania needs to look at the effects of legalized online gambling in other states before it considers offering it here, a state senator said.

“We want (gambling businesses) to survive here and to prosper, because it puts money in our coffers,” said state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, chairwoman of the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee.

Three states have legalized online gambling, and several others are considering it to generate more tax revenue.

Officials said concerns about legalizing online games include the potential loss of revenue among casinos and the Pennsylvania Lottery — the latter funds programs for senior citizens — and the possibility of underage gambling.

Those issues will be on the table on Tuesday and Wednesday, when gaming industry leaders from around the world and state gambling regulators attend an online gaming conference, the World Regulatory Briefing USA, in Philadelphia.

“We're basically hoping to learn more about how other states, jurisdictions and even some international jurisdictions, how they would approach Internet gambling ... or those jurisdictions that do have legislation that has passed,” said Kevin O'Toole, executive director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

Online gambling is not a priority, nor is it under consideration in Pennsylvania, said state Rep. Mauree Gingrich, R-Lebanon County, chairwoman of the House Committee on Gaming Oversight.

“We do not have any estimates on potential additional revenues resulting from Internet gaming. Of course, before that could be accomplished, a tax rate, license fees, the regulatory structure would all have to be a part of the equation,” Gingrich said.

In April, state Rep. Tina Davis, D-Bucks County, introduced a bill that would have put the Gaming Control Board in charge of regulating online gaming in the state, including determining which games could be offered. The bill stalled in the House committee.

In December 2011, the Department of Justice removed the Wire Act as a tool to prosecute online gambling providers and allowed states to offer games of chance on the Internet to companies that operate within their respective borders, according to the Washington-based American Gaming Association, which represents the commercial casino industry.

Nevada legalized intrastate online gambling in February, but it allows only online poker. Delaware legalized intrastate online gambling in June 2012. New Jersey approved it in February, and games will start on Nov. 26.

New Jersey will be watched closely “because of the fact that they will be offering all games and because of the size of the population in New Jersey,” said Holly Wetzel, spokeswoman for the American Gaming Association.

Ward said she is considering sponsoring a study to examine gambling in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania casinos have lost revenue to competition in nearby states, Ward said, citing Ohio casinos that opened in 2012. Table game revenue at Presque Isle Downs and Casino in Erie County declined 31 percent to $15 million between fiscal years 2011-12 and 2012-13, and much of that dip is attributed to the opening of the Horseshoe Cleveland casino, officials said.

Most the American Gaming Association's members believe online gaming would complement casinos, Wetzel said.

“There will never be a substitute for the social aspect of the bricks-and-mortar gaming experience,” she said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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