By State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie
If you are reading this sentence, chances are you are doing so on a computer, a mobile phone, or a tablet. Scroll or swipe up a few centimeters and you aren’t just in your home or in your office – you’re suddenly in a full-fledged casino that’s open 24/7.
Just as you are one click away from the dangers of predatory internet gambling companies, so too are our kids, seniors, low-income individuals, and those with debilitating gambling addictions.
I learned of the true problems with internet gambling when I served on the House Gaming Oversight Committee. We had numerous hearings and received feedback from scores of people on the issue. It was clear to me that internet gambling is the wrong choice for Pennsylvania.
Voting against, and continuing to vote against, internet gambling is an easy choice for both Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., legislators. I stand with legislators in Washington opposing internet gambling and applaud them for their efforts, because internet gambling is not only a threat to Pennsylvania families, but it also endangers the integrity of the Pennsylvania gaming industry and Pennsylvania jobs.
Some people in Washington think they know better and make false promises that they have technology to make sure kids can’t play and that the games are fair, but the facts and commonsense say otherwise.
Right here in Pennsylvania, computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University built a computer program that beat four of the best professional poker players on Earth out of $1.8 million. It exposed just how easy it is to use technology to cheat when gambling on the internet. In a telling admission from one of those top poker players following the tournament in Pittsburgh, “we just simply do not have the mental capacity to do it.”
Meanwhile, across the world in Pyongyang, North Korea, our greatest fears pertaining to internet gambling were confirmed late last month when a New York Times exposé revealed that North Korea dispatched hackers to cheat on poker websites with malware. Given the ease with which internet gambling lends itself to money laundering for nefarious activities, it’s no wonder why North Korea turned to this hacking scheme to help pay for its nuclear program and military.
In addition, internet gambling poses a clear threat to hard-working Pennsylvanians who are employed in the casino industry. Casino companies invested billions of dollars in Pennsylvania to build their businesses which employ over 18,000 people – many of whom live in our community. In turn, the Pennsylvania casino industry funds property tax relief for Pennsylvania’s seniors.
With forethought and clear goals, Pennsylvania successfully implemented casino gaming, making the Commonwealth the second largest casino state after Nevada. Today, the industry supports an additional 25,000 Pennsylvania jobs and generates about $3 billion annually in total economic output. Internet gambling erases all of these gains.
Turning every phone or tablet into a casino will crush those good-paying jobs, destroy future investment, and rob seniors of a key benefit. A legislator’s job should be to promote economic growth and incentivize investment, not approve laws that will deliberately kill jobs and hurt seniors.
We need more people in Washington, who are willing to look beyond the bluster and false promises to stand up for American families and American jobs.
State Representative Ryan Mackenzie represents the 134th Legislative District including parts of Berks and Lehigh Counties. He is a former member of the Pennsylvania House Gaming Oversight Committee.