Online gaming hearing season is upon us.
The Pennsylvania Committee on Gaming Oversight has already hosted one formal hearing on online gambling (and several other informal hearings), and has yet another on the schedule for May 6.
California’s Governmental Oversight Committees in the Assembly and Senate are prepping for online poker hearings of their own, including two joint hearings (on May 22 and June 24) between the Assembly and Senate GO Committees.
These hearings will likely see the usual cast of characters brought in to testify, which means some will be good and some not so good. Here is the list of people I would invite to speak at an online gaming hearing were I in charge of the invites.
I’m going to abstain from listing any of the iGaming industry’s consultants, executives and power players at online gaming sites, or people whose livelihood is completely tied to online gaming. The goal isn’t to stack the deck with pro-gaming witnesses, it’s to create a comprehensive and well-balanced list of people who will tell it like it is, with a couple of advocates and detractors thrown in for good measure.
The way I see it, there are six categories that need to be addressed.
6. Does the technology work?
The efficacy of the technology in place at online gaming sites is one of the most hotly debated topics between iGaming advocates and detractors, yet the people who are in charge of making sure the technology the industry uses is up to the challenge are rarely invited to speak at hearings.
Instead we get hypothetical assessments and blanket speculation from laymen masquerading as experts on technology they don’t fully understand, have never used, or simply don’t trust.
If you really want to understand the capabilities of the technology being employed in the iGaming industry you need to talk to these two people.
Anna Sainsbury GeoComply
GeoComply is responsible for a lot of the geolocation technology being used in the regulated online gaming industry, and Anna Sainsbury, GeoComply’s CEO, has done a great job of calmly and coolly explaining how the company’s technology works whenever she has been asked to do so.
The real-time demonstrations of geolocation technology slams the door on any detractor trying to poo-poo the ability to ring-fence a market.
Matthew Katz CAMS
CAMS is one of several companies handling the all-important player verification checks for regulated online gaming sites. CAMS CEO Matthew Katz is well-versed on the topic, as well as being open and honest when it comes to how the company performs these Know Your Customer (KYC) checks, as well as their limitations.
5. That’s all well and good, but let’s look at the numbers
The next topic that needs to be addressed is the numbers. How much revenue can online gambling bring in and what will the market size look like?
Forget Morgan Stanley and their ever-changing predictions about the potential size of the U.S. online gaming market. Or Wells Fargo and their pipe dream estimates of the potential revenue in New Jersey.
Lawmakers need to hear from focused gaming analysts who have spent countless hours poring over online gambling revenue and traffic data, and more importantly, analysts who understand the iGaming zeitgeist.
Gambling Compliance is considered one of, if not the top industry publication on a number of fronts including market data analysis, and Chris Krafcik is the man at the helm. Few people can match Krafcik when it comes to experience in this field.
Krafcik has testified at several hearings, including the contentious hearing that took place in California in April of 2014.
Adam Krejcik, an Eilers analyst and veteran of the gaming conference circuit, is another person who can be trusted to properly analyze data and make level-headed predictions of where the industry will be in five or ten years.
4. Opinions of problem gambling experts might surprise you
What makes problem gambling such an important issue is that detractors of online gambling like to portray the industry as something that will expand the problem gambling rolls, but when you talk to the experts, they paint a different picture.
An often-overlooked aspect of online gaming is its ability to detect problem gambling behavior.
Similarly, by regulating online gaming, states are able to funnel more funds into problem gambling initiatives, such as the way New Jersey forces online operators to set aside $250,000 to fund problem gambling research and help groups.
Keith Whyte is the National Director for the National Council on Problem Gambling, so he’s certainly not a big fan of gambling of any kind.
That being said, he’s also a thoughtful witness, and understands that online gambling is already available in the U.S., and unless we go full police state online gambling is likely to always be available in the U.S. in some way, shape or form.
Whyte has repeatedly stated that online gaming sites have better detection methods than brick and mortar casinos, and he’s also indicated that proceeds from online gambling can be used to fund problem gaming initiatives.
Parry Aftab’s day job is Internet security, but the head of WiredSafety has long held the point of view that regulation of online gambling would help protect Americans, particularly kids and at risk gamblers.
Aftab proved to be a credible and knowledgeable witness during her performance at the recently held hearing in Congress on Sheldon Adelson’s proposed online gambling ban, RAWA. The fact that she doesn’t have any allegiances to iGaming also helps her integrity.
3. Don’t forget the lobbyists
No hearing would be complete without letting each side make the case for or against regulating online gambling. The trick to picking which lobbyist to invite is to keep the vitriol and the hyperbole to a minimum, which can sometimes be hard when dealing with lobbyists and gambling.
With that in mind, my suggestion would be to invite two people (one from each camp) and allow them to make their case for and against online gambling. What we don’t need are anti-gambling zealots with their own agendas asking for policies that are either archaic or will simply never come to pass.
The head of the Poker Players Alliance has proven himself time and time again to be well spoken, insightful, and educated on why online gambling regulation would be a positive for the casino industry, state, and the players.
John Pappas is a regular speaker at hearings, has submitted testimony to Congress, and is a veteran of gaming conferences.
Proving I’m willing to hear from both sides, I’d be more than happy to have Andy Abboud, or another representative handpicked by Sheldon Adelson to appear and testify. There are enough logical, factual based speakers on my hypothetical panel to allow one person to go completely off the rails and make wild unsubstantiated accusations.
There are two reasons for this:
- Most of the time they do more harm than good.
- I truly believe our side has the facts and the better argument.
2. Regulators… mount up
One of the many glaring omissions at the recent Congressional RAWA hearing was the lack of any regulator on the witness list. As Chris Grove noted, they held a hearing on regulated online gambling without inviting any regulators.
This is a particularly egregious oversight when you consider three states (two in close proximity to Washington D.C.) have legalized online gaming, and four others have legalized online lottery sales.
I would be happy with virtually any gaming regulator from one of these states, but two really stand out in my mind.
My first choice would be the man who is currently in charge of overseeing the nation’s largest regulated online poker market, New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement chief David Rebuck.
Not only has the DGE done a stellar job regulating the industry, they’ve also been forthcoming with their data and assessments, and gone above and beyond to allow iGaming press access to their bureau chiefs.
My second choice would be AG Burnett, the head of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
Burnett is my second choice because his state has only legalized online poker and doesn’t have to oversee online casino games.
But as the nation’s oldest gaming state, any Nevada regulator should be well-versed on the industry, and Burnett has proven himself several times at gaming conferences where he has done an excellent job explaining the capabilities and difficulties of regulating online gambling.
1. I fought the law and the law… testified?
The legality and enforcement measures law enforcement has to work with is the one area I haven’t seen addressed often, or in much detail at online gaming hearings.
It would be informative to lawmakers if someone could stand before them and explain the history of online gambling enforcement and law, and what tools the current laws and interpretations of said laws prosecutors have at their disposal.
What better person to testify on illegal offshore online gambling and what tools the government has at its disposal than the man responsible for bringing about an end to PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and AP/UB on Black Friday?
His name may amount to a cursed word in poker circles, but Preet Bharara was simply doing his job, and based on the outcome he was doing it quite well.
Gaming Law expert “X”
In addition to Preet Bharara it would also be instructive for Congress and state lawmakers to hear from a legal expert in gaming law, and get their take on the current legality and application of laws, the Wire Act, UIGEA, as well as answering any other gaming law questions the committee members may have.
There are plenty of qualified individuals in this area to choose from, and since I’m not acquainted with many of them I’ll refrain from singling one or two out.