A fresh round of online gaming op-eds appeared last week on the pages of PennLive, the homepage of Harrisburg’s Pennsylvania Patriot-News. The two articles, respectively written by public relations executives Tony May and Charlie Gerow, argued starkly opposing viewpoints.
May, a lobbyist for Harrisburg’s Triad Strategies, did not explicitly call for online gaming legislation to fail, but spoke critically of regulation. Gerow, of the Harrisburg-based public relations firm Quantum Communications, offered bullish optimism.
Possible alternative to higher taxes
The issue of online poker comes at a crucial moment for Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, who recently proposed a series of tax hikes despite promising lower taxes during his 2014 campaign. Experts have estimated that Pennsylvania will face a $1.2 billion budget deficit next year, and supporters of online gaming, such as Gerow, view the revenue stream as a means by which Wolf can bridge the gap without raising taxes.
Gerow touted the $10.3 billion in Pennsylvania revenue since 2006, when casinos first began operating in the state. Land-based Pennsylvania casinos, all of whom principally support online gaming (with the exception of Sands Bethlehem), have also adopted that figure as a rhetorical centerpiece, and a number of executives mentioned it specifically at a State Senate committee hearing last week.
Social ills exaggerated
Fears of online gaming’s potentially dangerous social consequences were overemphasized, Gerow added.
“The concerns about increased social pathologies are relatively easy to deal with, given the record of previously expanded gaming,” he wrote.
“Most Pennsylvanians would prefer he find his spending money someplace other than their pockets,” Gerow’s column concluded.
Gerow noted that he and May were once united in support for the expansion of Pennsylvania online gaming legislation, but the pair, who co-host a local public access television program, now appear to disagree on the issue.
Lawmakers acting irrationally
In his counterpoint, May invoked the gambler’s fallacy, personifying Pennsylvania lawmakers as a losing casino patron. May accused Pennsylvania lawmakers of succumbing to an irrational belief that its luck would differ from New Jersey, a neighboring state currently suffering from poor casino receipts.
“Casinos are failing in Atlantic City,” he wrote. “New casinos are popping up in neighboring states and revenues at healthy casino operations are flattening out if not declining.”
Shortsightedness of public support
But given its voluntary nature, May said, gambling is typically viewed favorably by the voting public. Where citizens would otherwise oppose coercive or costly legislation, gaming offers consenting adults an opportunity, not a mandate, to spend. “Gaming expansions are de facto taxes on self-selected segments of the population,” he wrote, adding “the psychology of gaming is irrefutable.”
May cited theories that a conspicuous consumption bubble would soon burst, causing widespread harm to the entertainment and hospitality industries. Oversaturation of the modern gaming landscape, he said, is evidence that such a tipping point approaches.
“Daily numbers, instant games, mega multi-state jackpots, slots, table games, Keno, pari-mutuel betting and maybe widespread, legalized sports betting,” May wrote. “How big can it get?”
The op-ed columns are the latest on the topic for PennLive, which last month published another pair of high-profile arguments both for and against online gaming. Blanche Lincoln, a Sheldon Adelson-backed lobbyist, said it would be a “fiscal loser” for the state, while Senators John Payne and Nick Kotick, sponsors of the online poker bill SB 900, argued in support of such legislation.