Supreme Court Grants Petition to Hear New Jersey’s Sports Betting Challenge Appeal

On Monday, when the United States Supreme Court issued a list of cases which it will hear during the upcoming session, sports betting enthusiasts were dismayed to learn that the joint appeals lodged over Christie v. NCAA and National Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association v. NCAA failed to make the cut.

At the time, it appeared as though the Court would decline to consider the consolidated cases – which together represent the strongest challenge to a federal ban on sports betting yet lodged.

But buried amidst the bad news was a glimmer of hope, as the Court arranged for a “cleanup conference” the following day to discuss cases of interest, with the sports betting challenge conspicuously included.

That conference produced six additional cases to be granted a writ of certiorari, thus enabling the highest court in the land to study their merits, one of which was the combined Christie v. NCAA and National Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association v. NCAA filing.

By deciding to grant cert in the cases, the Court elevated a decades old debate over the federal prohibition on sports betting known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) of 1992. That law banned sportsbooks across America, aside from the four states which were exempted via a “grandfather” clause (Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, and Montana).

The state of New Jersey has continually attempted to authorize its own statewide sports betting industry, beginning with a public referendum in late 2011.

Governor Chris Christie then signed the sports betting proposal into law in January of 2012, but before the industry was operational, Christie and New Jersey were sued by the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Hockey League (NHL), and National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA).

The following string of decisions saw New Jersey’s efforts repeatedly denied in federal court, culminating with a denial by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in August of 2016. That prompted an appeal to the Supreme Court which finally resulted in cert being granted on Tuesday.

Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), who has introduced legislation to overturn PAPSA altogether through Congress, celebrated the Court’s decision in a statement:

“I applaud the Supreme Court for taking on this case and potentially resolving a long history of hypocrisy and unfairness in federal law. The citizens of New Jersey overwhelmingly support legalized sports betting and acted in a referendum to show that support. Both Congress and the Supreme Court should respect these actions.

Rather than continuing to allow criminal and offshore entities to reap the benefits of illegal gaming, there is now an opportunity for the Supreme Court to allow the democratic process in New Jersey to appropriately regulate sports gaming.”

Geoff Freeman, who serves as president and chief executive officer for the American Gaming Association (AGA) – the chief lobby group working on behalf of PAPSA repeal – released a statement praising the Court:

“The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 has failed to protect sports and fans. PASPA, which is approaching its 25th anniversary, is fueling an unregulated $150 billion illegal gambling market that continues to deprive states of vital public funding for services such as law enforcement and infrastructure.

We are pleased the Supreme Court appears to have responded favorably to our arguments as to why they should hear this important case. And we are hopeful their engagement will provide further encouragement for Congress to take the steps necessary to create a regulated sports betting marketplace in the United States.”

Governor Christie also chimed in to comment on the encouraging signs provided by the Court’s cert grant:

“I’m thrilled that we got certiorari at the Supreme Court.

I’m encouraged by it. We’re not declaring victory, but at least we’re in the game and that’s what we want to be.”

A new timetable has been established for the Court to hear the case, with New Jersey submitting its merits brief by August 10, amici briefs filed by August 17, the leagues’ respective response briefs by September 14, and a corresponding reply brief from New Jersey by October 14.

Betting Guide for the 2017 Wimbledon Championships

A foursome of feared veterans – each of whom has multiple Grand Slam titles to their credit – is head and shoulders above the field on the odds to win the men’s draw of the 2017 Wimbledon tournament, which gets underway next week at the All England Club in London.

Roger Federer is the big favorite at +200 at the Bovada Sportsbook, and for good reason. While many tennis fans feared the 35-year old may be on his last legs during a Grand Slam drought spanning 2013 through 2016, Federer won his 18th major title at the Australian Open earlier this year.

Federer also claimed his ninth Gerry Weber Open title two days ago, a tune-up for Wimbledon, so the game’s greatest player may just be peaking ahead of its greatest tournament.

Wimbledon’s defending champion and hometown hero Andy Murray (+350) is Federer’s closest competition, followed by career nemesis and recent French Open winner Rafael Nadal (+400).

And despite a tumultuous 2017 in which he seems to have lost that winning touch, Novak Djokavic (+600) is the only other player offered at odds better than 13 to 1.

2017 Wimbledon Championships (Men)

Player Wimbledon Title Odds on 6/27
Roger Federer +200
Andy Murray +350
Rafael Nadal +400
Novak Djokavic +600
Milos Raonic +1400
Nick Kyrgios +1600
Marin Cilic +1600
Alexander Zverev +2000
Grigor Dimitrov +2500
Stan Wawrinka +2500
Dominic Thiem +2500
Juan Martin Del Potro +2800
Kei Nishikori +6600
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga +6600
Bernard Tomic +10000
Gilles Muller +10000
Jack Sock +10000
Louis Pouille +10000
Tomas Berdych +10000
Feliciano Lopez +10000
John Isner +12500
Gael Monfis +12500
Mischa Zverev +15000
Steve Johnson +15000
Richard Gasquet +15000
Kevin Anderson +15000
Denis Shapovalov +20000
Fernando Verdasco +20000
Sam Querrey +20000
Gilles Simon +20000
Philipp Kohlschreiber +20000
Borna Coric +25000
Daniel Evans +25000
Donald Young +25000
Viktor Troicki +25000
Aleksandr Dolgopolov +30000
Andrey Kuznetzov +30000
David Ferrer +30000
Dustin Brown +30000
Fabio Fognini +30000
Pablo Cuevas +40000
Ernests Gulbis +50000
Benoit Paire +50000

Betting on the women’s side of the bracket isn’t quite as stratified, but Bovada does have two players well ahead of the rest.

Petra Kvitova (+500) has won Wimbledon twice before (2011 and 2014), but in the wake of last December’s horrifying home invasion and knife attack – which resulted in nerve damage to her left hand – the Czech superstar has been on the comeback trail. She bowed out in the second round of the French Open in her first Grand Slam since the incident, but took the title at the Aegon Classic last Sunday in a return to form.

Karolina Pliskova (+550) shares Czech heritage with Kvitova, and status as co-favorite in a sense, but the 25-year old has never escaped the second round at Wimbledon. She is coming off a quarterfinal run at the French Open, however, followed by a semifinal appearance at the Australian Open, so Pliskova’s first Grand Slam title may simply be a matter of time.

The betting board for the women’s draw only lists one other player at better than 10 to 1 odds (Garbine Muguruza / +900), so it looks to be a duel between countrywomen when the women take the courts.

2017 Wimbledon Championships (Women)

Player Wimbledon Title Odds on 6/27
Petra Kvitova +500
Karolina Pliskova +550
Garbine Muguruza +900
Johanna Konta +1200
Venus Williams +1200
Angelique Kerber +1400
Jelena Ostapenko +1400
Victoria Azarenka +1600
Coco Vandeweghe +1800
Madison Keys +2000
Simona Halep +2000
Elina Svitolina +2500
Kristina Mladenovic +2500
Ashleigh Barty +2500
Caroline Wozniacki +2800
Agnieszka Radwanska +3300
Sabine Lisicki +3300
Dominika Cibulkova +4000
Anett Kontaveit +4000
Julia Goerges +5000
Monica Puig +5000
Eugenie Bouchard +5000
Daria Kasatkina +5000
Timea Bacsinszky +5000
Lucie Safarova +5000
Anastasija Sevastova +6600
Donna Vekic +6600
Elena Vesnina +6600
Kristyna Pliskova +6600
Belinda Bencic +6600
Ana Konjuh +6600
Caroline Garcia +6600
Sloane Stephens +6600
Ekaterina Makarova +6600
Svetlana Kuznetsova +6600
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova +6600
Barbora Strycova +8000
Kiki Bertens +8000
Catherine Cartan Bellis +10000
Daria Gavrilova +10000
Lauren Davis +10000
Yulia Putintseva +10000
Sam Stosur +10000
Alize Cornet +15000
Camila Giorgi +15000
Carina Witthoeft +15000
Lesia Tsurenko +15000
Misaki Doi +15000
Carla Suarez Navarro +15000
Heather Watson +15000
Sara Errani +20000
Jelena Jankovic +25000
Laura Robson +40000

 

 

New York’s Online Poker Bill Falls Just Short of Finish Line for Second Straight Year

Just six weeks after the state senators in New York resoundingly voted to pass an online poker bill, the state’s Assembly has allowed it to die off without a vote.

Senate Bill 3898 was sponsored by state senator John Bonacic (R-42) in late January, and by February the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee voted 11-0 to move the online poker regulation measure forward. A voice vote by the full Senate took place on May 9, and once again S-3898 was ushered through the chamber without delay.

That sent it on to the full Assembly for study, but in a carbon copy of last year’s legislative wrangling, that body was unable to reach consensus before the session elapsed on June 21.

This marks the second consecutive year that the Assembly has failed to act on an online poker package passed overwhelmingly by the Senate. Bonacic saw his S-5302, which is nearly identical in construction and language to S-3898, passed by the full Senate in a 53-5 walkover last year, only to watch it languish in an inactive Assembly.

At that time, Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow – a veteran lawmaker who serves as chairman of the Committee on Racing and Wagering – provided the primary point of opposition. Pretlow expressed concerns over the ability of New York regulators to protect online poker players from cheating, as well as the potential for non-residents to access the state’s legal sites.

But this February, following a research mission to neighboring New Jersey to study the Garden State’s flourishing iGaming industry, Pretlow abruptly reversed course. Having determined that modern geolocation technology used in New Jersey is effective in blocking New Yorkers from playing, and instances of cheating are rare if not nonexistent, Pretlow offered his full support for online poker.

Political watchdogs and iGaming industry insiders widely expected Pretlow – a powerful figure in New York state politics for 25 years who heads the key Assembly committee on gambling issues – to provide the proverbial tipping point.

Pretlow himself said as much, telling local news outlet FiOS1news.com on February 25 that he saw few hurdles ahead after aligning with proponents of online poker:

“When I do sign off on something, my colleagues feel that it is a good deal and they don’t question why I made a certain decision. They know that if that decision was made, it’s for good reason. So, I don’t really see that there’s going to be much opposition to moving this along.”

After securing passage through his own committee on June 15, Pretlow sent S-3898 to the Assembly’s Committee on Ways and Means, but progress stalled amidst a tight deadline of less than one week.

Pretlow gave an interview to Online Poker Report on June 16 to discuss the S-3898, during which offered a telling take on S-3898’s chances of passing in 2017:

“I would say they’re slim, but not very slim. I believe they have some issues that may not be resolved by the middle of next week.

I’ve heard they have some constitutional issues and disagreements over the penalties. Some people say we don’t have strong enough penalties for bad actor, while some people say the penalties are too strong.”

The “bad actor” penalties that Pretlow alluded to refer to proposed fines that would be assessed to PokerStars parent company Amaya – resulting from the world’s largest online poker room continuing to serve American players after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 was passed.

The debate over bad actor penalties, or more specifically, the extent to which they should be imposed, has been cited as the key factor scuttling California’s decade-long online poker debate.

Two days later, Pretlow made the demise of S-3898 official while speaking to NY Daily News:

“There was some opposition; we’ll pick it up next year more than likely.”

iGaming Industry Continues to Grow on Global Level

A trio of stories making headlines in the iGaming world shows that while online gambling may be controversial in the United States, international locales are increasingly interested in getting in the action.

Russian Sports Betting Should Double by 2022

A recent report by the online sportsbook review site Bookmaker Ratings predicts that the Russian market will grow at a rate of more than double between now and 2022.

Per the study, Russia’s existing market for regulated sports betting currently hauls in an approximate annual handle of 677 billion rubles (USD$10.1 billion) – but that number is expected to jump to 1.4 trillion rubles (USD$22.4 billion) during the next five years.

The government of Vladimir Putin authorized legal sports betting in 2014, replacing an entrenched system of illicit underground bookies and offshore sites – a fact which Bookmaker Ratings viewed as a potential hurdle to those lofty growth goals:

“The main obstacles to the transition of players to the Russian legal bookmakers, are the complexity of identity verification and desire of players to avoid playing personal income tax.”

Factors driving the predicted boost in annual handle include the entrance of established European sites via an expanded licensing process, and the commencement of the 2018 World Cup.

At the moment, Russia licenses 29 operators to accept real money wagers on sporting events, 11 of which maintain online platforms.

Jamaica Set for Legalization and Regulation

A report published on June 18 by the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian detailed measures taken by prominent government officials who are actively pursuing iGaming regulation.

Audley Shaw, who serves as Minister of Finance and Public Service, recently delivered an address to the 7th Caribbean Gaming Show and Summit. With the Jamaican government considering an iGaming bill since 2014, Shaw revealed that international online gambling operators have been invited to apply for licensing:

“Since last year, the Casino Commission has met with two large international investors, which are now advanced in the preparation of their applications for Integrated Resource Development status.

With these developments, there is a lot of optimism for the growth potential of the gaming sector.”

In 2014, Member of Parliament Horace Dalley spoke to the Jamaica Observer and outlined the case for iGaming regulation:

“Internet gaming is happening right now in Jamaica. Therefore, it is time that we make that progression to this methodology of gaming, as Jamaicans are already well-equipped with the devices to facilitate this.”

Shaw provided his own justification, observing that the country’s gaming sector recorded revenues of JD$111.25 billion (USD$863 million) in the 2016/2017 fiscal year – up from JD$91.9 billion (USD$713 million) year-on-year.

Kenya Implements 35 Percent Tax on Operators

Responding to the rapid rise of online sports betting and lottery sales in Kenya, legislators recently enacted a heavy tax burden on operators which is designed to curb the industry’s growth.

After initially proposing a 50 percent tax on revenue for iGaming companies – which was rejected by the country’s president Uhuru Kenyatta – lawmakers in Kenya compromised with a 35 percent tax hike.

That tax obligation adds to the 30 percent corporation duty imposed by the Kenyan government.

The legislature reached its agreement on the final day of the current session, amending the Betting, Lotteries, and Gaming Act’s current 15 percent tax on iGaming revenue by more than double.

With a federal election on August 8 looming, president Kenyatta issued a stern statement which positioned the tax hike as a tool to increase fees charged by operators, and thus reduce the demand for online betting products:

“The purpose of the amendment of section 59B of cap 469 was to discourage Kenyans and especially the youth in directing their focus on betting, lottery and gaming activities instead of productive economic engagements, a vice that is likely to degenerate into a social disaster.”

In recent years the Kenyan media has highlighted the country’s online sports betting craze, typically covering stories of young and impoverished bettors who fail to find their fortune online.

Federal Trade Commission Moves to Block Merger Between DraftKings and FanDuel

Regulators with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have joined forces with two state Attorneys General to halt any further progress on a proposed merger between daily fantasy sports (DFS) operators DraftKings and FanDuel.

In a statement issued on June 19, the FTC announced that it will soon be filing a lawsuit in federal district court in hopes of obtaining an injunction to quash the deal. That lawsuit will be joined by the Offices of the Attorneys General for California and the District of Columbia.

Per the complaint filed by FTC commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen and acting chairman Terrell McSweeny, a merger between the two largest DFS providers would “become a de facto monopolist, free of the competitive constraints that each firm has imposed on the other.”

Specifically, the complaint alleges that a combined DraftKings / FanDuel entity would violate Section 7 of the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, and Section 5 of the FTC Act of 1914. Both laws prohibit the formation of monopolies which remove competitive balance from an industry or marketplace.

Tad Lipsky, acting director for the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, outlined the reasoning behind his agency’s decision:

“This merger would deprive customers of the substantial benefits of direct competition between DraftKings and FanDuel.

The FTC is committed to the preservation of competitive markets, which offer consumers the best opportunity to obtain innovative products and services at the most favorable prices and terms consistent with the provision of competitive returns to efficient producers.”

In a jointly issued statement, Jason Robins and Nigel Eccles – chief executive officers of DraftKings and FanDuel, respectively – responded to the FTC’s efforts to keep the companies separated:

“Today, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced it will attempt to block the proposed merger between DraftKings and FanDuel.

We are disappointed by this decision and continue to believe that a merger is in the best interests of our players, our companies, our employees and the fantasy sports industry. We are considering all our options at this time.

As we work together to determine our next steps, we would like to thank DraftKings and FanDuel players, partners and employees for their patience, support, and continued loyalty.”

Eccles founded FanDuel in 2009, with Jason Robbins launching DraftKings in 2012. Since then, the two sites have grown into the DFS industry’s twin titans, gobbling up market share through targeted acquisitions of smaller competitors.

During the height of the DFS boom Eccles and Robbins entered a proverbial “arms race,” as DraftKings and FanDuel flooded the airwaves with advertising, and continually tried to cut their competitor out by offering massive guaranteed prize pools. That activity eventually prompted authorities in several states to assess the legality of DFS contests, which allow players to form one-day fantasy sports teams for the purpose of real money wagering.

Several attorneys general, led by Eric Schneiderman of New York, ruled that DFS constituted illegal gambling and banned both sites. And while Schneiderman’s strategy of prohibition as a path to regulation has been mimicked around the country, DraftKings and FanDuel have suffered financial consequences as a result.

In November of last year the two former rivals announced their intention to merge, a move which the FTC claims would form a combined company that dominates more than 90 percent of the American DFS market.

An administrative trial has been scheduled for November 21 of this year in Washington D.C., where an administrative law judge from the FTC will hear arguments against its antitrust position.

World Poker Tour Signs Canadian Broadcast Distribution Deal with GameTV

Canadian poker fans now have a new home with GameTV, after the basic digital tier channel inked an exclusive broadcast deal with the World Poker Tour (WPT).

Beginning on May 29, episodes from the WPT’s first and second seasons have aired daily on GameTV, alongside Seasons XIII and XIV.

This marks the first time a Canadian television channel has aired WPT broadcasts in the tour’s 16-year history.

In a jointly issued press release announcing the deal, the WPT’s vice president of distribution Johnny McMahon praised GameTV as an optimal platform for poker:

“WPT Distribution is pleased to partner with GameTV to allow for World Poker Tour content to be widely available across the Canadian region.

Poker is a global game, and the WPT is a global brand, making the partnership with GameTV, a subsidiary of leading global sports media company Anthem Sports & Entertainment Corp., a perfect pairing as WPT Distribution continues to aggressively expand our international content offering.”

Anthony Cicione, president of GameTV and the Fight Network, commented on the natural connection between the channel’s competitive focus and WPT tournament coverage:

“GameTV is excited to add World Poker Tour content to its robust catalog of programming.

As the premier name in the distribution of internationally televised gaming and entertainment, WPT Distribution offers the type of superior content GameTV prides itself on.

We are proud to partner with WPT Distribution to be the company’s international broadcaster in Canada.”

Based on GameTV’s status as a basic tier channel – making it available on most cable and satellite packages – WPT episodes are now accessible in an estimated nine million Canadian homes.

Season XVI of the global poker tournament circuit is currently underway, with the WPT Montreal stop taking place from late October to mid-November at Playground Poker Club.

The WPT has held events in Canada since 2006, beginning with Season V and the WPT Canadian Open Championship at Fallsview Casino Resort.

And despite the lack of network coverage in Canada, the WPT has a long history in the country, including several memorable “made for TV” moments.

Last year, Season XV saw the tour make three northward stops, starting with the CA$3,500 PartyPoker.net Canadian Spring Championship at Playground Poker Club in April.

American pro Seth Davies outlasted a 417-runner field to take the title – and CA$274,540 in prize money – while WPT broadcaster and semi-pro player Tony Dunst finished in sixth place (CA$51,400). Dunst was looking to etch his name in the WPT Champions Cup for the second time.

By November of 2016, the WPT headed to Playground Poker Club for its WPT Montreal stop, a CA$3,850 buy-in event that attracted 648 hopefuls.

This time around it was lead commentator Mike Sexton – the iconic voice of the WPT since the tour’s inception – who played his way to the televised final table. Despite taking frequent shots as a player, and decades of experience as a tournament pro, Sexton had never won a title on tour.

That drought ended in spectacular fashion at WPT Montreal, where Sexton clawed his way back from an enormous heads-up chip deficit to defeat Benny Chen – a pro hailing from Charlottetown, Prince Edwards Island.

Sexton earned CA$425,980 for the win, but the legend made it clear that finally attaining victory on his beloved tour mattered more than any amount of money.

In May, Sexton announced his retirement from the WPT broadcast booth, where his seat alongside Vince van Patten will now be filled by Dunst. Sexton assumed the role of Chairman at PartyPoker, the online poker room he helped to found in 2001.

Vermont Becomes 12th State to Explicitly Legalize Daily Fantasy Sports

The first state to enter the Union became the 12th to expressly legalize the daily fantasy sports (DFS) industry, as Governor Phil Scott of Vermont signed a DFS regulation bill into law.

Officially known as S-136, the bill contained a suite of consumer protection measures unconnected to the gambling industry.

But amidst a wave of DFS regulation bills being introduced during the current legislative session, S-136 was written to include a section defining DFS as a game of skill which is exempted from the state’s strict gambling prohibitions:

“Fantasy sports contest means a virtual or simulated sporting event governed by a uniform set of rules adopted by a fantasy sports operator in which: (A) a fantasy sports player may earn one or more cash prizes or awards, the value of which a fantasy sports operator discloses in advance of the contest; (B) a fantasy sports player uses his or her knowledge and skill of sports data, performance, and statistics to create and manage a fantasy sports team.”

Through sponsorship by the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs, S-136 was introduced on March 21 – and by May 12 both the House and Senate held a conference committee to finalize its legislative language ahead of passage that day.

State senator Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) was a participant in that conference committee, after which he told independent news outlet VTDigger why he supported S-136:

“Eighty thousand or more people engage in fantasy sports in the state of Vermont, and it’s a good thing to get some consumer protection and regulation around the whole industry.”

Chris Curtis, who serves as director of the attorney general’s Public Protection Division, also spoke with VTDigger to explain Vermont’s accelerated progress on DFS regulation:

“Our position has been that it’s better to regulate the industry so that there are rules of the road and so that consumers have an expectation that fantasy sports has a backstop for consumer protection.”

Under the terms of S-136, residents of Vermont and visitors to the state must be 18 years of age to play DFS. The use of computer scripting and other automated tools preferred by professional players is prohibited across the board, while employees and representatives – including sponsored athletes – are barred from participating in contests with a buy-in of $5 or more.

On the operations side of the law, DFS sites like DraftKings and FanDuel will be required to apply for a license through the Secretary of State’s office, with an annual fee of $5,000 attached.

The parameters for taxation of DFS industry revenue haven’t been finalized, with S-136 instead directing the Governor’s office and Attorney General to establish a “tax framework.” A deadline of December 15, 2017 has been set for that taxation scheme to be put in place.

A spokesperson representing both DraftKings and FanDuel issued a statement celebrating Vermont’s decision:

“More than 100,000 – and growing – fantasy sports fans can now breathe easy, as the state has made it crystal clear: fantasy sports are welcome in Vermont.

On behalf of those fans, we want to thank Governor Scott and the legislature – particularly Senators Kevin Mullin and Dick Sears and Representatives Bill Botzow and Michael Marcotte – for updating state law to affirm fantasy sports are legal and establish some common-sense regulations for all companies to ensure consumers are protected.

We look forward to continuing to work with Governor Scott’s team, Attorney General Donovan and members of the legislature on a final, comprehensive regulatory and tax structure.”

Vermont’s previous attempt to pass DFS legislation was derailed in 2016, when the state’s assistant attorney general John Treadwell told lawmakers that DFS contests “violate Vermont’s gambling laws.”

The Attorney General’s office has since reversed that opinion, paving the way for Vermont, and its population of 626,000 residents, to join regional neighbors like Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland in explicitly approving DFS.

The other states where DFS laws and regulations have been passed are Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Massachusetts Special Commission Set to Recommend iGaming for 2018 Passage

Just over nine months after its creation, Massachusetts’ Special Commission on Online Gaming, Fantasy Sports Gaming, and Daily Fantasy Sports is reportedly on the verge of recommending full iGaming legalization to the state’s legislature.

Per a report published by State House News Service on June 6, the Special Commission “has been studying the ever-changing world of online gaming and gambling (and) may be poised to recommend an all-inclusive approach to regulating the multifaceted industry.”

With a July 31 deadline to deliver its official findings looming, the nine-member panel of legislators, regulators, and industry experts appears to have formed a consensus on the once contentious issue of regulated online gambling.

Representative Joseph Wagner (D-Chicopee) – who serves as chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and co-chair of the Special Commission – told State House News Service that the debate now boils down to choosing the best method for eventual iGaming implementation:

“There are three options I think that we will look at.

There’s the gaming option, a type of structure where we have a separate law that would govern this; the omnibus approach, which is where we would give some authority some authority to oversee all of this; or to just simply let it play out for some time or more going forward.”

The Massachusetts Legislature embarked on an ambitious overhaul of the state’s gambling industry beginning in 2011, with the passage of the Expanded Gambling Act calling for the construction of three resort-style casinos.

By 2015 the state’s Attorney General instituted new policies to regulate the daily fantasy sports (DFS) industry, prompting further legislative discussion on the matter of full iGaming legalization. Those discussions eventually led the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) to form a Special Commission tasked with studying the industry’s viability.

Along with Wagner, the Special Commission is co-chaired by state senator Eileen Donoghue (D-Lowell). Other members include MGC chairman Stephen Crosby, state senator Jennifer Flanagan (D-Worcester and Middlesex), representative Mark Cusack (D-Norfolk), representative James Kelcourse (R-Essex), assistant attorney general Dan Krockmalnic, senatorial legal counsel Hirak Shah, and chairman of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) Peter Schoenke.

As a proponent of the omnibus approach, which would regulate all forms of iGaming under the same umbrella, Crosby commented on the need for centralized third-party oversight – either through the MGC or another body:

“Our view is that the Legislature’s job is to determine whether or not we want gambling online to be legal, and if the answer to that is yes – which it sort of presumptively appears to be – then come up with a regulatory environment that can deal with all of these things as they come down the pike and not have to try to be in a reactive mode.

And it could be the Gaming Commission, that makes a lot of sense. Though if it goes to somebody else it’s totally fine with us, we’re not invested in it one way or another.

Then give that agency really clear parameters of protection, what needs to be attended to for all these new gambling processes online, give them the ability to regulate and with the nimbleness and speed that is required.”

Bills which would’ve legalized online casinos, poker rooms, DFS contests, and lottery sales were introduced during the 2017 legislative session, but progress stalled in the Senate. The issue was essentially punted to next year, pending the Special Commission’s final recommendation report on July 31.

Chief among the reasons for this year’s delay is the integration of Massachusetts’ new land-based casino industry.

The state’s first brick and mortar gambling venue, Plainridge Park Casino, opened its doors in June of 2015, while the MGM Springfield and Wynn Boston Harbor casino resorts are scheduled to open in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Crosby commented on the importance of working with the state’s newest gambling industry stakeholders, especially given the success of New Jersey’s use of land-based casinos as license holders and operators:

“If there is going to be a major change in the gaming world … the bricks and mortar people have to be attended to. Wynn is putting down $2.4 billion, MGM is putting in $1 billion and their economic interests, just to be fair, should be seriously considered.

Probably, we would think that online casino gaming – and we’ve got a definitional problem here – online casino gaming probably should be anchored in the bricks and mortar casinos.”

Special Commission members must deliver written opinions to co-chairs Wagner and Donoghue by June 16, while a final public meeting will be held at some point between now and July 31.

Pennsylvania House Passes iGaming Bill to Set Stage for Final Negotiations with Senate

Exactly two weeks after the Pennsylvania Senate voted to pass a comprehensive gambling bill, one which would regulate online casino games, slots, poker, and daily fantasy sports (DFS), the state’s House has done the same.

In a vote held on June 7, the full House voted 102-89 in favor of passing H-271 – an omnibus legislation package which expands Pennsylvania’s land-based casino industry, while creating a new regulatory framework for legal online gambling.

The next stage in the legislative process sends the bill back to the Senate, which passed its own version of H-271 by a 38-12 margin on May 24. But despite an apparent agreeance between the two bodies on the issue of iGaming regulation, the version of H-271 passed by the House differs in several major ways from the Senate’s previous attempt.

The Senate’s preferred model would see annual revenue generated by online slots and table games taxed at a rate of 54 percent, with the tax dropping to 16 percent for online poker.

Under the Senate’s plan, Pennsylvania would also charge online casino operators a licensing fee of $5 million, while online poker operators would pay a secondary licensing fee of $5 million – bringing the total cost to $10 million for most major iGaming companies which connect both platforms.

The text of H-271 as passed by the House modifies this taxation scheme – which is much higher than the 17.5 percent rate successfully implemented by neighboring New Jersey – to institute a flat 16 percent tax on all online gambling revenue. The dual licensing fee plan has also been modified, with the House seeking a one-time payment of $8 million to cover online casino and/or poker operators.

The partisan breakdown for the House vote saw 24 Democrats break ranks to join 78 Republicans voting for H-271, while 38 GOP lawmakers added their names to the list of 53 Democrats standing in opposition.

As reported by PennLive, Representative Dave Reed (R-Indiana County) – who serves as the House Majority Leader – discussed the higher revenue projections attached to the adjusted H-271:

“This is building upon the Senate proposal and will actually enhance revenue a little further.”

Initial revenue projections tabbed the potential increase from H-271’s passage at between $109 million and $147 million, under the Senate’s higher tax rate. But with many major iGaming operators already balking at the 54 percent tax, going on record to say they’ll simply sit out rather than join Pennsylvania’s new market, Reed’s prediction of “enhanced revenue” is based on attracting the industry’s most established operators to the state.

According to the House’s own revenue projections, the new version of H-271 would generate between $250 million and $300 million in new revenue for the state.

That increase of more than double takes into account the most controversial aspect of the House’s amended bill, which allows for casino gaming via video gaming terminals (VGTs) to be installed within non-gaming locations like airports and cafés.

Even so, Reed told PennLive that the House is actively seeking to avoid the sort of inflated revenue forecasts that have plagued states like Massachusetts and New York during similar iGaming legislation discussions:

“We want the most conservative estimate possible. We don’t want to overestimate revenues and I know that was a request of the administration and the governor’s office as well.”

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks County) told PennLive that the inclusion of VGTs could be a potential deal-breaker for lawmakers who already had reservations about gambling expansion:

“This has the potential to be a disaster for our children, our families and our communities.”

Following the House vote, the Senate will now reevaluate the text of H-271 – with tax rates and the VGT issue chief among the negotiating hurdles. Should the two bodies reach a compromise, the final text of H-271 would then be sent to Governor Tom Wolf to be signed into law.

For his part, Gov. Wolf has remained on the proverbial sidelines during the extended debate, offering no public statements for or against H-271.

That trend continued after the House vote, as a spokesperson for Gov. Wolf offered only a noncommittal comment on the matter:

“(The Governor) is committed to continuing to work with all four caucuses to reach consensus on a gaming proposal.”

If and when Pennsylvania pushes its iGaming legislation through into codified law, the Keystone State will become the fourth in America to legalize and regulate online gambling – joining Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware.

American Gaming Association Holds Meetings with NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL Players’ Unions

One day removed from making headlines through the formation of a new lobbying group to legalize sports betting, the American Gaming Association (AGA) is at it again.

During a conference call on Monday held to discuss the formation of the American Sports Betting Coalition (ASBC), AGA president and CEO Geoff Freeman confirmed that his organization has held a series of meetings with player unions representing the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Hockey League (NHL).

Last week Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported that such meetings had been held in New York City over the prior 18-month period to “discuss the potential ramifications that legalized sports gambling could present for their players.”

As gaming industry reporter David Purdum of ESPN wrote today, Freeman outlined the framework of those discussions as pertaining to “how legal sports betting works in international jurisdictions, data rights and potential marketing opportunities for players with legal betting entities.”

The AGA is currently pursuing a protracted political and legal effort to overturn a federal law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) of 1992. Under the provisions of PAPSA, sports betting is banned in all but four American states (Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, and Montana).

As Freeman relayed during the conference call, the AGA is anticipating the inevitable repeal of PAPSA as nationwide support for sports betting swells, and opposition from North America’s “Big Four” sporting leagues has waned:

“I think what the unions are trying to do now, wisely, is learn everything they can learn [about regulated sports betting].

I can tell you from the questions they asked us, they were good questions. They’re thoughtful on this. They’re going to be a key stakeholder on how this plays out.”

As part of his prior reporting on the union meetings, which was published on June 8, King spoke with George Atallah – who serves as assistant executive director of external affairs for the National Football League Players Association.

Atallah also confirmed that meetings with the AGA have been held, while repeating the NFL’s longstanding concerns that legalized gambling could impact game integrity:

“Yes, the sports unions have been discussing the issue, in particular around the integrity of our respective games. We’re collaborating on it.

We might be open to changes that are coming because of (legalized sports gambling), but before we get to the revenue aspect of it, do we have the infrastructure in place to prevent any sort of shenanigans? That’s the issue.”

The NFL has been a vocal opponent of sports betting over the years, but that stance has shifted considerably after the league approved the Oakland Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas. With the Raiders scheduled to begin play in 2020, and the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights – the gambling mecca’s first major professional sports franchise – taking the ice this fall, old opinions on sports betting are being reassessed.

A veteran NFL reporter, King used his league connections to speak with two team owners in March, one from each of the league’s two conferences. And their comments revealed a striking shift in the league landscape when it comes to legalized gambling.

According to an anonymous AFC team owner, the historical view of gambling as the domain of criminals and cheats has been rendered obsolete:

“From a gambling standpoint? That’s a joke to even say that’d be a problem. That was an issue decades ago. Now? Sports gambling is going to be legal.

We might as well embrace it and become part of the solution, rather than fight it. It’s in everyone’s best interests for it to be above board.”

An owner from the NFC echoed those sentiments, specifically mentioning the advent of online sportsbooks and mobile betting:

“The first question, naturally, is going to be about gambling. But any of us can pull our phones out of our pockets and place a bet right now. (The concern) is not 100 percent put to bed, but it’s relatively put to bed, just because of technology today.”

The AGA’s newly formed lobbying group has announced plans to pressure Congress to pursue a PAPSA repeal this year.