On Thursday, the Delaware House of Representatives Gaming and Parimutuel Committee voted to send its online gambling legislation to the floor of the House for a vote. It probably didn’t hurt that the chief sponsor of the Delaware Gaming Competitiveness Act aka HB333 is Rep. John Viola, who’s also the gaming committee chairman. (Handy, that.) Regardless, the committee vote was six in favor, one opposed and two abstentions. Delaware’s plan would enable the state lottery to offer online keno and other games to state residents, while online ‘video lottery games’ and ‘table games’ would be available via sites operated by the state’s three racino operators. A three-fifths majority vote in the full House is required to pass the bill, and the current legislative session ends June 30.
The push by individual US states towards legal online gambling was the topic du jour at the East Coast Gaming Congress (ECGC) on Thursday. The general impression of panelists at the ‘Understanding The i-Gaming Frenzy’ seminar seemed to be that the current makeup of Congress is too dysfunctional to achieve consensus on an issue as potentially divisive as online poker. NorthJersey.com’s John Brennan quoted US Digital Gaming founder Skip Bronson suggesting federal backers were “naïve” to think Congress could pass legislation when it “can’t even agree on what day it is.” New Jersey state senator Ray Lesniak echoed this theme, noting: “Everyone knows that [House Speaker] John Boehner doesn’t run the House of Representatives – the Tea Party does.” And the Tea Party isn’t overly interested in expanding the federal government’s scope.
Earlier this month, Lesniak suggested NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s support for the state legislature’s online gambling push was wavering, and some saw Christie’s reneging on a scheduled keynote address at the conference as further evidence of this change of heart. On Thursday, Lesniak told the ECGC audience that he felt Christie was “back on board” the online gambling train. However, when cornered privately by Brennan after the seminar, Lesniak copped to the fact that his claim was based on ‘scuttlebutt, word on the street, whatever you want to call it.” In other words, he may have read it on the TwoPlusTwo poker forums.
While the states may have the initiative, success is far from assured. Prior to the December opinion by the US Department of Justice that widened the scope of products state lotteries might offer online, the Oregon Lottery hatched an ill-fated plan to launch an online gaming site dubbed The ORcade. The site would have featured a number of free-play arcade-style social games as well as the ability to enter losing scratch-off tickets into second-chance drawings, but the plan was met with consternation from anti-gambling groups concerned that the game animation would appeal to children (as in ‘won’t someone think of the…’). The brouhaha prompted the state governor to express his concern, and the Oregonian has since obtained an April 18 memo in which lottery officials considered recommendations from an advisory committee for salvaging the site – chief among them being a complete disassociation from the “tainted” ORcade name. We’re not so sure such a move is warranted – after all, British Columbia Lottery Corporation’s online offering PlayNow.com suffered far greater public indignities and survived.