Another Attack in Criminalizing Online Poker for Players Led By Pennsylvania Legislator

In the battle regarding online poker and casino gaming, the targets of legislation have traditionally been the companies and organizations that provide the outlet. The UIGEA of 2006 targeted the banks and the Wire Act of 1961 targeted the operators (the state of Washington was one of the few exceptions in making playing online poker a felony crime in the mid-2000s). Now a Pennsylvania lawmaker wants to take the attack against those who play the game in addition to those who provide the platforms.

According to several outlets, including, Pennsylvania State Representative Mario Scavello is drafting a plan (which may become a bill) that would criminalize playing online poker and casino gaming in the state. “Online gambling is best described as the Wild West,” Scavello stated as his reasoning for proposing the strict regulations. “Online, there’s no one around to keep an eye on someone who doesn’t know when to stop.”

Under Scavello’s plan, first offenders would face a summary offense (a judgment without a jury trial or indictment) that could net a potential $300 fine and/or up to 90 days in jail. A second violation of the law would be entered as a misdemeanor that could earn the offender a $2500 fine and/or up to a year in jail.

“I believe that if you hit people in their wallets, we can start to crack down on the lawbreakers,” Scavello said. Current Pennsylvania law holds that it is illegal to play poker or casino games online, but do not have any punishment for those who do.

The battling factions in the ongoing online gaming wars have sounded off on Scavello’s proposal. The Sheldon Adelson-led Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling immediately sounded off in support of Scavello’s proposal, releasing a statement that called attacking the players who partake of online gambling and poker “a step in the right direction.” The CSIG’s leadership – former New York governor George Pataki, former Arkansas senator Blanche Lincoln and former Denver mayor Wellington Webb – said in their statement, “We call on the Pennsylvania legislature to vote in favor of this bill and send a powerful message that online gaming has no place in American society.”

The Poker Players Alliance is recognizing the latest charge by anti-gaming zealots and is calling its membership to action. Rich Muny, the vice president of player relations for the PPA, spoke out on the issue through the PPA’s weekly update and noted the 39 organizations that have sided with the CSIG (Muny cited these groups in saying, “It is largely the same “faith and family” groups who have always opposed us”). Muny continued on by saying, “This is not the first time Adelson has used a scorched earth policy to try to achieve his aims…with Adelson seeing a need to fight harder, it just means the PPA and the poker community will continue fighting harder.”

The American Gaming Association, the land-based casino organization that supports federal regulation of online gaming, has not made any statements regarding the proposed legislation in Pennsylvania. They have created a counter-group against the CSIG, the Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection, which has such powerful figures as former California Representative Mary Bono and former Ohio Representative Mike Oxley onboard. At this time, however, the CCOP does not have an active website to help inform constituents.

The AGA has also enlisted the aid of President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, to help in lobbying for the cause.

Currently Pennsylvania is studying expansion of gaming in the state that would include online play. After passing slot machine regulations in 2004 and table games in 2010, further expansion of gaming in the state would help to alleviate long-term deficits in the government. With 2014 a key election year, however, it is not expected that any new legislation would pass through the Pennsylvania legislature and it is unknown how much support there would be for criminalizing the play of Keystone State residents.

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