Even as the state’s latest attempt to pass online gambling legislation languishes in front of lawmakers, Pennsylvania’s land-based casino industry is almost entirely aligned in support.
As the second-largest brick and mortar casino industry in the country, behind only Nevada, collaboration with the Keystone State’s collection of competing operators has always been considered a litmus test for iGaming legalization.
The importance of combining iGaming interests with existing land-based casino operations has been underscored in California. There, several years of attempts to legalize and regulate iGaming have been consistently scuttled by a coalition of tribal casino operators, creating a legislative stalemate which lasts to this day.
Pennsylvania has its own issues to contend with on the iGaming front – taxation rates chief among them at the moment – but considering the written testimony delivered during a key committee meeting this month, land-based casinos won’t be a concern.
On March 7, a joint hearing was held by the Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee and House Gaming Oversight Committee. The subject of debate was a pair of iGaming bills recently introduced by local lawmakers – Senate Bill 477 and House Bill 392.
The latter is a 209-page omnibus legislation package – identical to the iGaming bill passed by the House last year – which would legalize online casinos, poker rooms, and daily fantasy sports (DFS) sites.
As part of the written testimony process, no less than five casino operators – representing six Pennsylvania casino properties – offered their unequivocal support for iGaming passage:
- Caesars (Harrah’s)
- Lady Luck
- Mount Airy
- Rush Street (SugarHouse and Rivers)
- Valley Forge
Eric Pearson, chief executive officer and president of Valley Forge Casino, pointed to the success of iGaming in neighboring New Jersey as a prime impetus for iGaming passage:
“Additionally, I hope you will consider allowing internet gaming in the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania has an opportunity to be among the first in what will be a significant growth opportunity for the industry moving forward.
As we can see from our neighboring state to the east, once the internet gaming market is established, then a real opportunity for consistent healthy growth exists. If internet gaming is considered here in Pennsylvania, then I ask that it not discriminate against Category 3 casinos and allow us to participate in this exciting new area.”
Richard Schwartz, president of Rush Street Interactive – the online division of Rivers Casino and SugarHouse Casino operator Rush Street Gaming – predicted a mutually beneficial relationship between land-based venues and their online platforms:
“As the casino industry has matured in Pennsylvania, it has become more than just a gaming experience, with expanded dining and entertainment options at many casinos, including SugarHouse and Rivers.
We believe that online gaming represents an exciting opportunity to increase the health of the brick-and-mortar casino industry in the state of Pennsylvania, while generating licensing and tax revenue for the Commonwealth.”
Four other casino operators – Meadows, Mohegan Sun, Penn National (Hollywood Casino) and Presque Isle – have previously expressed their conditional support for iGaming, in written and oral testimony, during the last four years of deliberation.
One of the state’s two remaining casinos, Sands Bethlehem, is currently owned by the Las Vegas Sands corporation and notorious anti-online gambling crusader Sheldon Adelson. But with the Sands Bethlehem expected to be sold to MGM Resorts – a traditional ally of iGaming interests – the venue is considered a de facto “yes” vote by industry insiders.
The lone remaining holdout would then be Parx Casino, as chief executive officer Anthony Ricci continues to claim iGaming poses a “cannibalization” threat to land-based casinos.