As the Democratic Chair of the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, I take issues associated with the gaming industry very seriously. As I mentioned in , the gaming industry has proven to be very beneficial for Pennsylvania. When the Legislature created the Pennsylvania Horse Development and Gaming Act (Act 71 of 2004), the General Assembly made sure to place provisions in the law that would regulate the industry and hold casinos accountable to strict standards in order to protect the public from problems associated with gambling.
Across the country we see a growing industry known as “internet sweepstakes cafes.” The way sweepstakes work is that customers purchase either internet time or long-distance phone minutes at internet sweepstake businesses for use at home or at the business. With this purchase, one free entry is given for every penny spent (example: $1 would = 100 free entries). These entries can then be used to play a variety of casino-style electronic games like slots machines or poker. A player determines how many entries they want to use and then pushes a button to start the game. Players also have the option of using their entries for an “auto-reveal” option that instantly determines whether an entry is a winner or not. For both types of games, players win points which are redeemable for cash.
Sweepstakes are said to be predetermined and not a game of chance, therefore legal in Pennsylvania through a loophole that allows them to fall outside of the state gaming law. Supporters also argue that this is the same as going to a fast food restaurant and receiving a game piece for purchasing certain items or purchasing a carbonated beverage and looking under the cap to determine if you are a winner.
Under Act 71, casino gambling must be licensed and regulated under the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Furthermore, Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes provides for offenses related to illegal gambling. House Bill 1893 (HB 1893) would add internet sweepstakes to the list of gambling offenses under Title 18. The bill passed the House of Representatives on Oct. 25, by a vote of 196-0 and now sits in the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee.
The gaming industry was established to benefit Pennsylvania taxpayers as well as bring in additional revenue for our state’s dire needs. As the economy starts to recover, every dollar does count. As HB 1893 progresses through the Senate, the General Assembly needs to determine the fiscal impact that closing this loophole would have on the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.
Senator Wayne D. Fontana
42nd Senatorial District