Wherever the issue of legalizing and regulating online gambling is raised there is a robust debate, with people coming down on both sides of the issue for a myriad of reasons.
These discussions often spill over into the press, with editorial boards at different newspapers, and op-ed submissions from residents and special interest groups offering competing points of view.
One of the most oft-cited but wholly mischaracterized arguments put forth by critics of PA online casinos and poker is the idea that legalizing and regulating online gambling is an expansion of gambling in the state.
In a recent editorial, the Philadelphia Daily News Editorial Board wrote about legislation that regulate online poker and casino games:
As if on cue, the Legislature last week offered us a proposal that it said would be a cure for our budget problems. Guess what it is?
More gambling. The state already has a lottery, a dozen casinos and horse racetracks in every major area.
What we need next, according to supporters of these bills, is online gaming – so you can sit at your computer and play casino games to your heart’s content.
A second editorial, written by the Express-Times opinion staff makes similar arguments against “expansion”:
“Pennsylvania isn’t going to balance its budget by legalizing and taxing online betting. …
Expanding gambling options is a dicey, short-term gambit. Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli reminded us last week that easy access to internet gambling feeds addiction, as well as the type of crimes that follow addiction and the transfer of electronic money online.”
What these viewpoints lack is proper perspective. Although, to be fair to the editorial boards, they also cite video gaming terminal expansion, which is a legitimate concern.
That being said, mixing online gambling and VGTs is a conflation of two separate issues. One is a clear expansion of gambling’s footprint in the state, while the other is anything but.
Regulation of an existing industry isn’t expansion
Online gambling is already rampant in Pennsylvania, it’s simply underground (or more accurately, offshore) and unregulated.
You can go online right now and register at multiple unregulated online gaming sites headquartered offshore. You can do this with a credit card or in many cases a money wire. The only age verification required (to deposit money) is clicking a box that says you’re over 18.
Calling the legalization and regulation of online gambling an expansion of gambling is no different than saying, “until it is legalized and regulated there is no one smoking marijuana in Pennsylvania.”
It’s there, and it’s a thriving black market.
Legalization of online gambling will not expand its presence. What it will do is take the online gambling industry out of the shadows and place it under the control of reputable, often publicly traded, and highly vetted companies, who are under the watchful eye of state gaming control boards.
- Create robust consumer protections, safeguarding Pennsylvanians;
- Tax the revenue that is currently being generated overseas;
- Bolster the state’s casino industry by allowing them to create a new revenue stream;
- Provide an economic boost through new jobs and marketing spend.
What these editorial boards are advocating for when they come out against online gambling legalization is not suppression or prohibition of online gambling.
What they are, wittingly or unwittingly, calling for is the continued existence of an online gambling black market. The status quo leaves Pennsylvanians at the mercy of an unregulated industry, inhabited by many unscrupulous operators.
History will repeat itself
The list of U.S.-facing online gaming sites that have run off with money or cheated players is well populated and dates back over a decade. Some of the names on the list are:
- Absolute Poker
- Ultimate Bet
- Lock Poker
- Everleaf Poker
- Pitbull Poker
- Purple Lounge
- Skill Bet
If the editorial boards at the Express-Times and Philadelphia Daily News have their way, this list will continue to grow. And that means Pennsylvanians will continue to be taken advantage by offshore, unregulated online gambling sites.