As Pennsylvania studies the potential of legalizing online gambling, state Rep. Mario Scavello wants to set up a road block to web-based wagering.
The Monroe County Republican on Tuesday outlined a plan to penalize people who gamble online, which is illegal but not punishable in Pennsylvania. Scavello believes online gaming poses a threat to children who could easily find the sites and especially dangerous to problem gamblers who could go all-in and lose from the comfort of their living rooms.
"Here again, online gambling is best described as the Wild West. Online, there's no one around to keep an eye on someone who doesn't know when to stop," Scavello said, adding that the use of gaming sites is on the rise.
Scavello's bill would aim to curb that, making first violation a summary offense that carries a possible $300 fine and up to 90 days in jail. A second violation would be a misdemeanor bringing a chance of a $2,500 fine and 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.
The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling voiced immediate support for Scavello's proposal, pointing to a recent Quinnipiac University poll that found 62 percent of Pennsylvania voters oppose the legalization of online gambling.
The national co-chairpersons — former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb — released a joint statement that called criminalizing online gambling "a step in the right direction."
"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," they said.
Scavello's push comes after the state Senate authorized a study of the future of gambling — including online gaming. Many consider it a prime target to help shore up Pennsylvania's finances, especially with a long-term structural deficit to address.
If allowed, online gambling would mark another watershed moment for Pennsylvania's gaming industry after slot machines were approved in 2004 and table games OK'ed in 2010.
Pennsylvania approved small games of chance last year. Online gaming didn't make its way into Gov. Tom Corbett's budget proposal, but he did call for the addition of keno to the state lottery's offerings.
Scavello spoke out against the latest gaming frontier, saying online gaming could negatively impact casinos that have brought jobs and revenue to the state. He also contended that online gambling sites could become a haven for criminals looking to launder money — a concern that's also been raised by the FBI.
State Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, recommended that the U.S. Congress and U.S. Department of Justice strengthen laws on online gambling. For now, Scavello said Pennsylvania can't afford to wait, while state Rep. David Millard, R-Columbia, equated it to other public health issues lawmakers must address.
"We know that online gambling leads to a lot of exploitation by various dubious characters that are out there that want to take advantage of our youth and people who do have an addiction," Millard said. "Being addicted to gaming is like a cancer in our community."
Andrew Staub can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.