Mississippi online gambling; Pennsylvania warns Camelot; Christie plays politics

mississippi-pennsylvania-new-jerseyThe prize for first US state to introduce new intrastate online gambling legislation in 2013 goes to … Mississippi! Rep. Bobby Moak has filed HB 254 aka the Mississippi Lawful Internet Gaming Act of 2013 (read it here), which is essentially identical to the bill Moak filed in February 2012. The bill envisions a system in which poker and other “internet games … determined … to be compatible with the public interest” would be taxed at 5% of gross revenues, and unauthorized sites serving Mississippi residents would have their domains seized.

Last year’s bill failed to make much headway in the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, and Moak’s latest version could already be DOA. Last year, Moak suggested his true intent behind filing the bill was to spur politicians in Washington, DC to pass federal online poker legislation to fend off the threat of a ‘patchwork of regulations’, that favorite bugaboo of the American Gaming Association. It’s not clear whether Moak believes refiling his bill will have any effect on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s half-hearted efforts to give a federal bill the old college try in 2013, or whether Moak is now resigned to making sure Mississippi doesn’t miss the chance to add its own patch during that intrastate quilting bee.

Up in Pennsylvania, some concerned pols are worried that the decision to award private management of the Pennsylvania Lottery to UK National Lottery operator Camelot will lead to more than just increased ticket sales. Gov. Tom Corbett has suggested the lottery could expand its offering to include video keno gaming in bars and pubs, but with Camelot’s contract making it responsible for growing revenues every year, critics are worried keno is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that five Republican state pols, including Senate President Joe Scarnati and Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi wrote Corbett a letter, demanding that Camelot’s contract be rewritten to prohibit any expansion into video lottery terminals (VLTs) and online gambling. The legislators want assurances that “these types of games will be prohibited in the future,” because “not only is this a broader expansion of gambling” than they were led to believe was behind the drive to privatize the lottery management, “but these games will directly compete against our highly regulated casinos,” which ranked second in the nation in terms of gaming revenue in 2012.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has until Feb. 4 to sign, veto or not sign (the latter option is as good as signing) the state’s online gambling legislation. On Tuesday night, Christie told a local ‘Ask The Governor’ radio program he was still undecided on the matter, although Christie suggested he wasn’t sure whether online gambling would (a) help Atlantic City or (b) create more problem gamblers, leaving many to assume Christie was leaning towards another veto in February.

Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) chairman Joe Brennan Jr. believes Christie will wait until the very last minute to tip his hand. Brennan told PocketFives’ Dan Cypra that while Christie has stated he wants the Garden State to be “the epicenter” of the US online gambling industry, “this is about politics, though, and this issue is one of a whole basketful of issues he’s negotiating with the opposition party in the legislature.” Brennan suggested Christie will use every second of online gambling’s ticking clock “to maximize his political leverage” with opposition members on other issues.

Brennan had kind words for PokerStars, which is waiting not just on Christie’s decision, but also to learn whether its bid to buy the Atlantic Club casino-hotel will garner the approval of New Jersey gaming regulators. Brennan believes if Stars gets the brick-and-mortar nod, the subsequent approval of a New Jersey online gambling license “seems pretty likely … I can’t imagine that PokerStars would have gone this far if they didn’t have a good idea of what their prospects were.” Brennan also suggested that a proud organization like PokerStars wouldn’t treat the Atlantic Club as a mere stepping stone to the online license, after which its interest in the struggling gaming joint would depreciate accordingly. “I can’t see them doing anything but a good job putting work and investment into the property. They’ll probably build the best poker room on the East Coast.”

Finishing up in Massachusetts, state Treasurer Steven Grossman’s plan to ask legislators to rewrite laws to authorize the state lottery to take its action online have prompted the ‘anti’ brigade to organize a conference at which to discuss the evils of such a plan. To give you an idea of the diversity of opinion that will be on display, the Feb. 7 event will feature speakers from the National Council on Problem Gambling and the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling. All we really need now is a keynote from John Kindt – the Focus On The Family nutter who recently penned (crayoned, more like it) an op-ed for Roll Call that claimed online gambling would “create a queue of speculative bubbles that could collapse already fragile financial systems and destabilize essential international economic security” – and we got a party.