To play online in Pa., sign up at the door

    In the quest for online gambling, and additional gaming revenue, Republicans in Pennsylvania’s Senate are asking casinos to keep one foot firmly in the corporeal world.

    A Senate GOP proposal would legalize online gambling, but players would have to register first with the casino – by showing up in person.

    The debate over in-person registration is just one example of the complicated negotiations involved in lawmakers’ attempt to legalize online gambling. The gaming industry is already heavily regulated, and any change that could shrink casinos’ profits would hurt the state’s tax haul as well.

    At a Senate committee hearing on Internet gambling Wednesday, the in-person requirement elicited concerns. Online gambling is expected to attract younger players who are far less likely to step foot inside casinos.

    “We want to attract them to the physical facilities,” said Michael Cohen, an executive at Caesars Interactive Entertainment, Inc., which owns Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack. “But we don’t want to force them to go, because if we force these younger patrons to go to the facility, they’ll continue to play on the off-shore, illegal sites, and not generate revenue for Pennsylvania.”

    But Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-Bucks, sees in-person registration as a crucial way to keep casinos from stealing customers in their competitors’ backyard. He’s a supporter of the online gambling proposal, but he wants to make it harder for casinos to market themselves statewide.

    “Remember, these people paid a lot of money to have a casino in a location,” said Tomlinson. “And now, this is a way around that location.”

    Tomlinson said he’s also concerned online gambling would be taxed at a lower rate than the business at brick-and-mortar casinos.

    “That would cannibalize state revenues and local revenues that casinos pay,” he said.

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