Internet gambling coming to Pennsylvania?

First came slot machines.

Then came table games.

The Lottery was then expanded.

Small games of chance were recently permitted in bars and restaurants.

Gambling is a growth industry in Pennsylvania in recent years and the next big thing could be web wagering.

Online gaming would let players sit in the comfort of their home, or on their mobile devices, and gamble. No trip to a store, bar or casino would be necessary to place a bet.

State Representative Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster) says online gaming is likely headed for the Keystone State. It’s just a question of when.

“It exists anyway,” Sturla said after a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on the topic Thursday. “So the question is do we make it safe? Do we make it a revenue source? Do we protect some consumers who are currently being scammed by illegal online gaming interests?”

The most likely scenario would let brick and mortar casinos, who spent millions purchasing licenses a few years ago, run the online sites. The state would oversee it, as the Gaming Control Board does now.

The casinos, several of which sent representatives to Thursday’s hearing, love the idea.

“The younger demographic does everything online,” said David Satz, senior vice president of government affairs for Caesars International. “We think that’s part of the opportunity, for us to offer that to our customers that already do so much online.”

Supporters insist that online gambling is a reality and the state’s not getting a cut of the action.

“Today any Pennsylvanian can log onto a poker site, a sports betting site, or a casino site and place wagers totally unsupervised,” said John Pappas of Poker Player Alliance, which boasts 25,000 members in the Commonwealth. “What we want is supervision. As a player, there’s great risk if you’re depositing money whether you’re gonna get your money back and whether the site is reputable and regulated.”

Not all the testimony sung the praises of online gaming. Internet gambling has high risk factors for addiction, according to Keith Whyte of the DC-based National Council on Problem Gambling.

Whyte says there are 280,000 Pennsylvanians addicted to gambling and expanding it to the Internet will only grow that number.

“We estimate the social cost from criminal justice and health care mainly is $255 million already this year in Pennsylvania,” Whyte said. “So if you’re gonna expand gambling, I know they want to increase revenue, but there is a social cost there.”

But the state has repeatedly shown that it’s addicted to the revenue that gambling can generate. That makes it a good bet that internet gaming is coming sooner rather than later.

The casino executives know how to feed the state’s addiction and entice it to act.

“I think there’s clearly money there,” Satz said, “and revenues that can be utilized by the commonwealth to deal with that budget deficit.”

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