Sanity Reigns at Pennsylvania Online Gambling Legislative Hearing
Serious discussion about the opportunities and potential perils surrounding the regulation of online gambling dominated the action at Thursday’s Pennsylvania state legislative hearing. The hearing, held before the Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee, stood in marked contrast to a recent and highly farcical US Congressional hearing on the same general topic, by calling a diverse and knowledgeable list of witnesses offering both social and technical viewpoints from all sides of the topic.
Thursday’s PA House hearing was held in conjunction with PA House Bill 649, one of three online gambling-related bills currently under consideration in the state. HB 649’s sponsor is PA state Rep. John Payne, who also chairs the Gaming Oversight committee before which yesterday’s hearing was held.
That Pennsylvania’s state legislators are serious about the possibility of formally regulating at least some forms of online gambling in the state was made clear by the witness list assembled for the hearing, which included the following:
- David Satz, Senior Vice President, Government Relations & Development at Caesars Entertainment Corporation;
- Chris Sheffield, Managing Director / Senior Vice President of Interactive Gaming at Penn National Gaming;
- Andy Abboud, Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Community Development. Las Vegas Sands Corp. (Abboud was the lone insane voice present at the hearing, both there as a representative of LV Sands’ interests in the state — LVS operates the Sands Bethlehem casino in eastern Pennsylvania — and to spout Sheldon Adelson’s anti-online gaming rhetoric, thereby providing comic relief to the proceedings;)
- Michael Pollock, Managing Director Spectrum Gaming Group; Spectrum is a casino and business consulting firm from New Jersey with experience and insight into that site’s regulated online-gambling experiences;
- Kevin Mullaly, Vice President of Government Relations for Gaming Laboratories International, which provides certification and testing services for online-gaming operations;
- Lindsay Slader, Operations Manager, GeoComply, a leading geo-location technology firm. Slader was on hand to provide technical expertise and refute anti-gambling myths that online locations cannot be tracked with precision.
If there was an oversight to the list of witnesses called, it’s that there was no room provided for consumer representation. One the one side that was merciful, in that it spared the committee the bizarre ramblings of Stop Predatory Gambling president Les Bernal, who was much too busy spreading his unique brand of scare-mongering falsehoods 2,000 mikes away, at the 2015 GIGse conference in California. But also not called to testify directly were representatives of the Poker Players Alliance or any other pro-gaming consumer advocates, to provide first-hand anecdotes of experiences with both regulated and unregulated gaming sites.
Nonetheless, the PPA had plenty to say about Abboud’s rambling and disingenuous testimony, which included Abboud ignoring a question from Rep. Tina Davis about Sands Bethlehem’s shoddy record in keeping underage gamblers out of Adelson’s casino. Abboud also had to be warned at one point by Payne, who chaired the hearing, about speechifying from the witness table instead of actually answering the questions being asked.
The PPA, for its part, quickly issued an eight-page debunking of Abboud’s various, and usually false, claims, which we’ll look at in a separate feature this weekend.
GeoComply’s Slader’s live-time technology demonstration before the committee was certainly one of thje hearing’s high points, as it demonstrated first-hand that technology exists to properly police the boundaries of intrastate online gaming. Those boundaries, literally, were part of the demonstration, with Slader able to demonstrate how for users near a state border, location-targeting can be resolved to a house-by-house basis, with resampling done every five minutes to block users who might stray over a state’s border. GeoComply also demonstrated company systems which help unmask users who might attempt to evade or falsify the results of location tracking via VPN usage.
As Slader told the committee, “We have it pretty much down to a building level,” she said. “You can see what part of Starbucks you logged in from and, yes, we also know what you did last summer.”
No immediate voting action is expected on any of the bills currently under consideration in the state, including Payne’s and a rival bill also reintroduced recently by Davis. Instead, the committee, which is responsible for most legislative recommendations regarding Pennsylvania’s regulated gambling activities, has schedule a second hearing for Wednesday, May 6th, on the topic.