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Player's Advantage

More legalized gambling seems to be a sure bet in Pa.

| Sunday, July 16, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

In all the back-and-forth about how to pay for Pennsylvania's budget, gambling fans should take one point to heart: Legalized online casino gaming, daily fantasy sports betting and online lottery sales are almost certain to be part of the ultimate agreement. The main question appears to be whether other expansions of legalized gambling are in store. Satellite casinos, airport gaming areas, skill-based gaming and even sports betting are being considered.

That's quite a list for the state second only to Nevada in commercial casino revenue. Whatever winds up being added will mark a significant shift in the gambling landscape in a relatively brief time. Pennsylvania's first legal casino opened in 2006. Mohegan Sun and its successors were slots-only operations until table games were approved in 2010. In November 2011, Pennsylvania topped New Jersey in monthly gaming revenue for the first time.

Now the Keystone Sate seems about to become the fourth — and by far the most populous — state to approve Internet gaming open to people physically within its borders. In addition to providing an influx of tax revenue and protections for Pennsylvania gamblers using unregulated offshore sites, that move could herald approval of Internet gaming in other states that want to help their casinos grow.

Predicting what the Legislature and governor will do, and when, is difficult. Gov. Tom Wolf let the 2017-18 spending plan become law without his signature, and his office and legislative leaders are wrangling over how to come up with the money for it. House and Senate members were sent home July 11 but put on notice that they could be called back to Harrisburg with six hours' notice.

“We're in one of those periods where everyone needs to take a step back,” says Rep. George Dunbar, R-Westmoreland, a longtime backer of legalized online gaming and daily fantasy sports. According to multiple media reports, those measures were uncontested parts of a revenue plan in negotiations before legislators left Harrisburg.

Dunbar says Internet gambling and daily fantasy sports wagering are already common on unregulated sites.

“Why don't we give the consumer protection and collect the tax revenue that we need?” he says. “It makes sense to me.”

If online gaming is approved and carries a tax rate that doesn't keep operators away, it would take about six months for regulations to be written and the sites set up, experts say.

Pennsylvania's plan would give the states' 12 land-based casinos first shot at operating online gaming sites offering slots, table games and poker. That's an effective approach, says a recent nationwide report by Spectrum Gaming Group, an independent research firm.

“Harnessing online gaming to land-based licensees will not only grow online and land-based revenue, but will also do more to increase employment, generate capital investment and encourage other sources of revenue, such as sales taxes,” says the report, presented to the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States.

The study found that online gaming attracts primarily new customers and that existing customers of land-based casinos who also wager online typically increase how much they spend at the casino.

Online gamblers tend to be younger than those who currently frequent traditional casinos.

“People are hard-wired to enjoy games of chance and to take reasonable risk, regardless of the decade in which they were born,” the Spectrum study says. “People are also hard-wired to enjoy social settings, and to seek entertainment experiences with other adults.”

The Spectrum study advises states with both casino gaming and lotteries to find common ground when those operations go online, as Pennsylvania is considering. Lotteries' online instant-game tickets will evolve into the equivalent of an online slot machine, the study says. “There will be competition between the two, unless policymakers encourage joint ventures or similar arrangements to boost convergence, rather than competition,” Spectrum says.

Mark Gruetze is the Tribune-Review's gambling columnist. Reach him at

Western Pa. players rack up cash at WSOP

Western Pennsylvania players have combined for more than $300,000 in winnings at this year's World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. The 74-event series is wrapping up its 48th year of competition. Local players finishing in the money in the final tournaments before the $10,000-per-seat Main Event are:

Event 19, The Giant: No Limit Hold 'Em, $365 buy-in, 10,015 entries (ended July 9): Shannon Milasincic of Butler, 598th, $532; David Lundie of North Huntingdon, 932nd, $720; Alan Chute of Pittsburgh, 1,005th, $652; Dalaine Ofchinick of Braddock, 1,192nd, $595

Event 49, Pot Limit Omaha, $3,000 buy-in, 630 entries: Jeff Hakim of Wexford, 83rd, $4,516

Event 50, No Limit Hold 'Em Bounty, $1,500 buy-in, 1,927 entries: Robert Mazzie of Pittsburgh, 50th, $4,687; Jeff Hakim of Wexford, 88th, $2,513

Event 57, Omaha High-Low 8 or Better/Seven-Card Stud High-Low 8 or Better Mix, $2,500 buy-in, 405 entries: Adam Stoller of Wexford, 26, $5,200

Event 58, No Limit Hold 'Em, $1,500 buy-in, 1,763 entries: Samuel Ganzfried of Pittsburgh, 221st, $2,329; Travis Hartshorn of Sarver, 244th, $2,249

Event 60, Eight-Handed No Limit Hold 'Em, $888 buy-in, 8,120 entries: Simon Mattsson of Pittsburgh, 535th, $2,023; Nicholas Immekus of Jefferson Hills, 542nd, $2,023; Griffin Abel of Pittsburgh, 556th, $1,949; David Eldridge of Cranberry, 901st, $1,473; Billy Pilossoph of Presto, 1,006th, $1,334; Ryan Milisits of Pittsburgh, 1,068th, $1,332; Jeffrey Francia of Monessen, 1,093rd, $1,332

Event 61, Online No Limit Hold 'Em High-Roller, $3,333 buy-in, 424 entries: Jeff Hakim of Wexford, 34th, $7,613

Event 63, No Limit Hold 'Em, $1,000 buy-in, 1,750 entries: Richard Tatalovich of Pittsburgh, 47th, $4,587

Event 65, No Limit Hold 'Em (30-minute levels), $1,000 buy-in, 1,413 entries: Mark Ayoub of Pittsburgh, 208th, $1,503

Event 66, No Limit Hold 'Em, $1,500 buy-in, 1,956 entries: Griffin Abel of Pittsburgh, 75th, $4,639; Mark Ayoub of Pittsburgh, 226th, $2,494

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