Perhaps the most contentious part of Pennsylvania’s current gambling expansion bill is video gambling terminals, the mini-slots often seen at taverns.
House Republicans are charging hard to include VGTs in the bill. Meanwhile the Senate is having none of it. This stalemate has experts wondering if a gambling expansion bill will ever be passed.
We may have more clarity on that issue this September when, as was recently announced, the Senate Law & Justice Committee will discuss the matter.
Outspoken VGT critic State Sen. Chuck McIlhinney is the leader of that committee. He gave the following quote in a press release about the Sept. 19 meeting:
“I guess we should thank the House for bringing this issue to light, though I find it disturbing that members of this legislature may have known about possible illegal gaming machines and done nothing about it.
We will be holding hearings on the issue of legal gaming machines and, as part of that process, will focus significant energy on addressing and ending this scourge of illegal VGT’s across the Commonwealth.”
Opponents say VGTs will undercut casinos in PA
For a good idea of Senate opposition to VGTs, one must understand what’s happening in McIlhinney’s view.
The clearest explanation of the senator’s reasoning came in a letter to the editor of the The Intelligencer. McIlhinney, who represents the country that includes Parx Casino, said VGTs would be a pervasive menace.
“I agree with the people I represent that this is simply the wrong option for our community and our state,” he wrote. “Bucks County does not need up to 3,000 of these machines scattered throughout our communities with little to no concern for where they are located.”
McIlhinney also expressed in his press release that he doesn’t buy the argument that permitting some 55,000 VGTs would combat the thousands of illegal VGTs located throughout the state.
Proponents say VGTs can increase revenue for the state
On the other side of the VGT argument are those, particularly House Republicans, who say legalizing VGTs would essentially end the black market on the machines.
Not only that, but supporters say the state tax revenue generated from tavern terminals would help cut into the more than $1 billion deficit Pennsylvania is facing in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
Rep. Mark Mustio penned an op-ed of his own, in which he made the case of his fellow House Republicans. His main points are that allowing VGTs will not only quash the illegal VGT market but that tax revenue from the slots could contribute an additional $300-$400 million to the state budget.
So why does the Senate meeting matter? VGTs are the one issue under the bill’s umbrella that the Senate has repeatedly said it won’t support.
In other words, any gambling expansion bills that pass the House and include VGTs will be dead on arrival at the Senate.
If history is any indication of what will happen next month, McIlhinney’s committee will obliterate any hope VGTs will make it through the Senate.