Scrambling the golden egg
Massachusetts, which cautiously and methodically inched its way into casino gambling, is looking at moving into overdrive as lawmakers consider legalizing online gambling.
The state’s three approved casinos, of course, want more than a piece of the action, arguing they shelled out nearly $200 million for their licenses, not to mention billions for the construction of the brick-and-mortar gaming halls. They want a piece of the online action, too.
““We paid dearly,” Eric Schippers, senior vice president for public affairs for Penn National, which operates Plainridge Park Casino, told the Boston Globe. “And the limitation on the number of casinos was supposed to make us comfortable investing huge amounts of money. The state can’t now make a fundamental change in the deal we made.”
““We think there’s a real opportunity here for Massachusetts, not only to break new ground, but to create an economic driver that would pay real dividends for the Commonwealth,” commission chairman Stephen Crosby said recently.
The argument can be made that there’s a finite amount of gambling dollars available so siphoning them off from the as-yet-unrealized golden goose of casino gambling would not necessarily add more to the state’s bottom line, merely alter the source of the revenues.
But it doesn’t appear anyone knows what that cap is. Massachusetts is one of about a half-dozen states that have online gambling proposals before lawmakers. New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and West Virginia are all considering measures to cash in on the internet. Why? It’s the revenues, stupid.
A recent report from the gaming industry says online gambling in Pennsylvania could bring more than $400 million into state coffers over the next six years. While lawmakers view the numbers skeptically because of the source, they are, at least, viewing the numbers.
For those considering the financial benefits of internet gambling, they can look no further than New Jersey, which joined Nevada and Delaware in legalizing online gambling in 2013 as a way to bolster its sagging casino industry in Atlantic City. The Garden State only allows existing casinos to operate the sites. But the numbers aren’t quite as robust as hoped.
There’s also the ongoing concern about enabling addictive behavior by making access as easy as the click of a button but also letting people use credit cards to feed their habits. It’s one thing to drain the family bank account but quite another to mortgage the future.
States also need to be wary of changes in federal law regarding online gambling. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during his confirmation hearing that he would review the 2011 law that booted up internet gambling and indicated he would consider reversing it. Given his boss’ background in the betting industry, though, that may be a nonstarter.
State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, on last week’s The Codcast, admitted she was a reluctant supporter of the move but now sees not only the benefits but the necessity to move into virtual betting for real revenues.
Goldberg offered one idea for keeping a lid on problem gambling. While she said she’d be open to allowing debit cards to be used, she is proposing gamblers purchase a card from a retailer and load up a finite amount for use online. This way, she says, you not only keep people spending within some limits, she also suggested the state can track how much individuals are betting and either shut them down when it’s out of control or give them some warning and help if things look like they’re getting away.
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