Pennsylvania law enforcement raid of bars resulted in a big haul of illegal gambling cash and outlawed video gaming terminals and slots.

Last week, according to Pennsylvania news station FOX 43, the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement raided 48 watering holes across four counties. About $177,000 was seized.

“The ongoing operations of illegal gambling devices and illegal video gaming terminals, while often viewed as a victimless crime, result in lost tax revenue for Pennsylvanians and victimize households of citizens whose family members have gambling addictions,” said BLCE Director Major Scott T. Miller.

The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General will aid in prosecuting the cases, the article says.

The raid came shortly before a legislative hearing into the legalization of VGTs at private establishments in the state.

Unregulated odds are part of the problem

The slots and video gaming terminals seized posed a problem not only for law enforcement, but also for the people gambling at the various illegal machines.

As Fox 43 points out, the owners of the machines can set the odds on the machines or set the machine to take in a certain amount of money. In the latter case, it can remove odds from the gambling equation.

This puts gamblers in a compromised position, as they don’t know exactly how poor their odds are before they play.

However, that’s not the only problem gamblers or bars face when operating illegal slots and VGTs.

Gamblers can lose out without protection of law

There’s no guarantee a bar would even have to pay a customer who won money on its machine. And what legal recourse would the gambler have if the establishment refused to pay up? None.

That’s the case of proponents of legalizing VGTs in PA more from Penn Live on Monday’s hearing on VGTs:

Rep. Mike Sturla said many skirt the law by saying they haven’t paid out any winnings from the illegal machines. Since they aren’t regulated, the state doesn’t receive any revenue from the proceeds and players aren’t guaranteed their winnings will be paid.

“The only payouts go to patrons they know,” the Lancaster County Democrat said. “[The bartender] may think I’m a gaming enforcement agent.”

In Pennsylvania, the Small Games of Chance Act governs the legality of gambling machines. According to the SGCA, Pennsylvania allows licensed gaming at racinos, the Pennsylvania lottery and bingo games that meet state requirements and local regulations.

The BLCE executed a similar bust in 2016, FOX 43 reported, in which it seized 706 illegal video gambling machines and nearly $170,000 in cash.

VGTs would cannibalize PA casinos?

The discussion about VGTs in PA comes in the context of the state trying to generate more revenue from the gaming industry. One of the possibilities is the legalization of PA online casinos.

While online gambling would actually help land-based casinos, should it be legalized, there will almost certainly be some cannibalization of existing revenue with VGTs.

The argument of VGT proponents is that the activity is going on anyway, so the state should license it and protect consumers. That, of course, sounds a lot like the argument for legal and regulated iGaming.

Of course, it’s actually possible for law enforcement to do raids of bars in PA like the one above. Stopping unregulated online gambling has proven to be nearly impossible in the US.

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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren is a freelance writer and author. He is a three-time winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism contest. His work has appeared in numerous blogs and publications including Bespoke Post, Snooth, Our Amazing Norway, Barcelona Metropolitan and The Villages Daily Sun.