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More legalized gambling seems to be a sure bet in Pa.

By Mark Gruetze, Trib Live

In all the back-and-forth about how to pay for Pennsylvania’s budget, gambling fans should take one point to heart: Legalized online casino gaming, daily fantasy sports betting and online lottery sales are almost certain to be part of the ultimate agreement. The main question appears to be whether other expansions of legalized gambling are in store. Satellite casinos, airport gaming areas, skill-based gaming and even sports betting are being considered.

That’s quite a list for the state second only to Nevada in commercial casino revenue. Whatever winds up being added will mark a significant shift in the gambling landscape in a relatively brief time. Pennsylvania’s first legal casino opened in 2006. Mohegan Sun and its successors were slots-only operations until table games were approved in 2010. In November 2011, Pennsylvania topped New Jersey in monthly gaming revenue for the first time.

Now the Keystone Sate seems about to become the fourth — and by far the most populous — state to approve Internet gaming open to people physically within its borders. In addition to providing an influx of tax revenue and protections for Pennsylvania gamblers using unregulated offshore sites, that move could herald approval of Internet gaming in other states that want to help their casinos grow.

Predicting what the Legislature and governor will do, and when, is difficult. Gov. Tom Wolf let the 2017-18 spending plan become law without his signature, and his office and legislative leaders are wrangling over how to come up with the money for it. House and Senate members were sent home July 11 but put on notice that they could be called back to Harrisburg with six hours’ notice.

“We’re in one of those periods where everyone needs to take a step back,” says Rep. George Dunbar, R-Westmoreland, a longtime backer of legalized online gaming and daily fantasy sports. According to multiple media reports, those measures were uncontested parts of a revenue plan in negotiations before legislators left Harrisburg.

Dunbar says Internet gambling and daily fantasy sports wagering are already common on unregulated sites.

“Why don’t we give the consumer protection and collect the tax revenue that we need?” he says. “It makes sense to me.”

If online gaming is approved and carries a tax rate that doesn’t keep operators away, it would take about six months for regulations to be written and the sites set up, experts say.

Pennsylvania’s plan would give the states’ 12 land-based casinos first shot at operating online gaming sites offering slots, table games and poker. That’s an effective approach, says a recent nationwide report by Spectrum Gaming Group, an independent research firm.

“Harnessing online gaming to land-based licensees will not only grow online and land-based revenue, but will also do more to increase employment, generate capital investment and encourage other sources of revenue, such as sales taxes,” says the report, presented to the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States.

The study found that online gaming attracts primarily new customers and that existing customers of land-based casinos who also wager online typically increase how much they spend at the casino.

Online gamblers tend to be younger than those who currently frequent traditional casinos.

“People are hard-wired to enjoy games of chance and to take reasonable risk, regardless of the decade in which they were born,” the Spectrum study says. “People are also hard-wired to enjoy social settings, and to seek entertainment experiences with other adults.”

The Spectrum study advises states with both casino gaming and lotteries to find common ground when those operations go online, as Pennsylvania is considering. Lotteries’ online instant-game tickets will evolve into the equivalent of an online slot machine, the study says. “There will be competition between the two, unless policymakers encourage joint ventures or similar arrangements to boost convergence, rather than competition,” Spectrum says.

Mark Gruetze is the Tribune-Review’s gambling columnist. Reach him at PlayersAdv@outlook.com