Will VGTs Kill The Pennsylvania Gambling Bill?

June 22, 2017
gavel, flag, pile of papers

The clock is still ticking, but there is no result on Pennsylvania’s proposed online gambling bill. The House and Senate each passed their own gambling expansion bills, but compromising on one piece of legislation is tougher than it looks.

Lawmakers are at an impasse over video gambling terminals (VGTs). The Senate did not include the machines, which would go in bars and truck stops, in its bill. The House bill featured sweeping VGT legislation. Finding a middle ground on this particular issue could stall the entire bill.

Gov. Wolf does not favor VGTs

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf did not exactly say he was against VGTs. However, his statement did warn strongly against compromising the existing Pennsylvania casino economy:

“I don’t want anything that we do in gaming or gambling to interfere with the revenues that are already in place. If it just cannibalizes and takes from one bucket called gambling to another, the commonwealth isn’t doing anything more than it has in the past.”

While some might think this is a dig at the online gambling components of the bill, in actuality, VGTs pose the bigger threat. Save for Parx and Sands Bethlehem, the other Pennsylvania casinos endorse online gambling.

In New Jersey, online gambling has been legal and regulated since 2013. Garden State operators unanimously agree online and offline casinos work together in a mutually beneficial way.

VGTs, on the other hand, are something most casinos strongly oppose. Sands owner Sheldon Adelson launched a million-dollar campaign against the machines. Additionally, every other casino company agrees. The two exceptions, Penn National and Rivers, are on board only because both have financial interest in VGT companies.

Senate Majority Leader says gambling expansion bill causing problems

The fact of the matter is, the state legislature needs to come up with some way to meet the budget. That budget currently has $250 million in it from gambling expansion tax revenue. Online Poker Report suggests Wolf is trying to put the legislature on notice to pass something. preferably something without VGTs in it.

The Senate Majority Leader Sen. Jake Corman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the group is not far off on a finalized budget bill. That is good news, but his comments on gambling expansion were not wholly positive.

In Corman’s words, he “pushed away from the table” when it came to gambling expansion discussion. He added:

“At some point we have to sit back and look at the public policies that surround all this — is this good for our communities? Before we pop up more casino lights across the state or VGTs, shouldn’t they have a say?”

Corman fought against the House version of the gambling expansion bill, but he also admitted some version of the bill could get through. It is just looking increasingly likely that, if it does, VGTs will not be a part of it.

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