PA Officials Say 42 Percent Of Bars Have Illegal VGTs

State Sen. Chuck McIlhinney oversaw a public hearing concerning illegal video gambling terminals (VGTs). The public message was that he would do his best to enforce the laws and find rule breakers.

With the increase of stop-and-go VGTs comes the increase of cases and penalties. TribLive reports that 40 cases await judges, while penalties range from $50 to $1,000. A first offense can come in at $150 to $250.

Law enforcement seizes countless VGTs each year

The Bureau of Liquor Enforcement seized about 650 machines a year since 2011. This year, the bureau seized 386. These cases generally take time to develop, given required undercover operations and expenditures.

State police Maj. Scott Miller, the director of the bureau, had officials track the number of illegal gambling machines over a four-week period. They found that 376, or 42 percent of licensed establishments, contained a suspect machine. Officials flagged almost 800 machines in total.

“This is a multimillion-dollar industry, as machines generate $100 to $1,000 of income per week, while occupying a very small footprint — approximately 3 by 3 feet square — within the business,” Miller said to TribLive. “These proceeds are usually paid to the business owners by the vendor in cash and may or may not be reported for tax purposes.”

Establishments, like bars and stop-and-goes, say in response that they lose money and business without the VGTs.

Campaigns launch against VGTs

Pennsylvanians for Responsible Government launched an ad campaign and website to encourage the state house and senate to vote against legalizing VGTs, according to PoliticsPA.

The group’s television ad and website ask residents to contact legislators and tell them to oppose VGTs. The ads run across the state and the group is backed by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. The company owns and operates Sands Bethlehem.

The group argues that these machines take jobs from brick-and-mortar casinos. This could result in future layoffs. They also denounce the placement of these blackjack and poker machines within feet of neighborhoods, nursing homes, schools, churches and playgrounds.

“12,000 new casinos with 40,000 blackjack and poker machines is not the right way to balance the Commonwealth’s budget,” the site reads.

VGTs take from casinos?

Editorial board of The Inquirer also came out against the expansion of gambling across the state. The board posits that the state has descended into madness to save its budget at the expense of taxpayers.

If PA allows VGTs, the board states that they will be feeding off one business for another.

“The state will get a cut of the revenue the VGTs will generate, but what happens if casino revenues decline by that amount or more?  By cannibalizing one form of gambling with another, revenue that goes to the state could decline.”

State of PA online gambling not entirely grim

In the meantime, legislators have not killed PA online gambling. Sources told City & State PA that a “tentative deal had been struck” that would allow for 10 “mini-casinos” in rural areas, video gambling at truck stops, and expansion of online poker and slots games.

This plan would fill a portion of the $32 billion state budget revenue.

“There is no deal until there are votes. There have been some positive talks over the past week,” Senate spokesperson for House Speaker Mike Turzai, Stephen Miskin, said. “Gov. [Tom] Wolf has now been engaged, which has been helpful. The details are still being worked out and we hope to have something to share with the caucus next week.”

About The Author

Katie Callahan

Katie Callahan is a freelance journalist, blogger and copywriter who covers everything from poker, business, education and politics to construction, startups and cybersecurity.

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