PA Legislative Rollercoaster Kindles Emotions at G2E, Elsewhere

Burning embers

One of the best, and most important, parts of attending the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) each year is catching up on industry gossip – getting an idea how everyone’s feeling and what they’re talking about. As a close follower of the US online gambling industry, I’ve always been part of a niche group, but our industry is represented by an ever-growing number of experts.

This year, I was particularly excited to make my annual trek to Las Vegas because the talk, going into the week, was that the Pennsylvania legislature might finally be ready to become the 4th US state to license and regulate online gambling.

And Yet…

Nothing good happened in Harrisburg while I was at G2E. Nothing good at all.

On the day some expected movement on iGaming, we were instead treated to yet another stalemate between the Republican-led legislature and the Governor, a Democrat. In the end, things moved in another direction entirely before the legislature adjourned for a two week recess, leaving our industry wondering if this was the last we’d hear about iGaming in 2017.

As my meetings continued throughout the week in Las Vegas, it was hard to ignore how the mood had dampened.

Trying to ignore the ups and downs

Of course I’ve learned, after several years of disappointment, never to get too excited.

Many people have been more optimistic, though, and perhaps with good reason. After all, an iGaming bill did pass the Senate. And while substantially different from the Senate version, a bill got through the House as well.

Some online gambling supporters went so far as to express belief that it was inevitable something would pass.

I’ve generally offered a more nuanced take; I follow the legislative updates closely, but I get nervous when I hear things like, “a compromise has been reached.” I start wondering why the legislature isn’t out there voting it through if enough people really agree on the substance.

For me, nothing has really happened until the Governor’s signature is in the books.

But 2017 DOES feel different

This year really does feel like it could be “the year,” though, and not just because of the tremendous success of New Jersey online gambling or broader public consensus that online gambling should be legal and regulated.

No, it seems like it’s happening because Pennsylvania has a deep hole in its budget and needs a way out.

It’s sad that we need a broader political crisis for our industry to make progress in any of the 47 US states that still don’t license and regulate iGaming, but this situation does now feel like it could be the necessary catalyst to restart US expansion.

The Recent News about Nevada and New Jersey

In separate news, NJ Governor Chris Christie’s office recently announced an agreement to share online gaming liquidity with Nevada and Delaware.

You may wonder what this has to do with Pennsylvania, but I actually found the development quite significant. Soon, there will be just one liquidity pool in the USA for all states where online poker is legal. This development should take away any potential confusion or controversy over whether or not new states would also join an inter-state compact, and if so, which compact they would join.

I was especially surprised by the liquidity sharing agreement because of how closely both Nevada and New Jersey guard control over gaming in their respective states. It made me optimistic that states do see the value of this arrangement and will be able to move past differences to make it work.

Interstate compacts make online poker a much more attractive endeavor, and should only serve to help grease the legislative wheels in states trying to evaluate the value of moving forward with online gambling regulation.

Positivity, overall (but measured)

There have been several developments in Harrisburg since the end of the conference, and most of the iGaming crowd is notably cheerier than they were a couple weeks ago. It still seems like there’s a chance Pennsylvania will pass this year, and it doesn’t feel terribly far away that 5 or 6 US states will have legal online gaming.

But politics is politics, and reality is we are stuck waiting years at a time sometimes for legislators and governors to sort things out.

And while we all might seem on the same page at an industry conference, things are much more complicated in state houses around the country.



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