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Why A New Study On VGTs Could Impact Online Gambling In PA

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The Senate hearing on video gambling terminals (VGTs) is not until Sept. 19. That should give Pennsylvania lawmakers a chance to peruse some interesting new reading material.

A new study out of the University of Illinois looks at the connection between VGTs and crime levels. The researchers concluded there appears to be a connection between rising crime rates and the presence of VGTs.

Study looked at VGTs in the Chicago area

Illinois passed VGT legislation in 2012. However, while it was a statewide law, local governments got to decide if they wanted the machines or not.

Chicago proper did not allow the machines, but many areas in suburban Chicago did bring them in to local bars. The study compared crime rates in the area. Researchers drew three major conclusions:

  • Access to gambling increases violent and property crimes
  • These are new crimes rather than displaced incidents
  • The effects seem to be persistent in time

The full paper is available online. Here is a glance at some of the detail the study gets into regarding the subject:

On average, being near at least one video gambling establishment is associated with a 7.5% and 6.7% increase in violent and property crime. These estimates control for potential confounders, including access to riverboat casinos, community area specific trends, and demographic controls. Reassuringly, these effects are strongest in the block groups closest to video gambling establishments. The effects decrease as gambling access declines, becoming zero after moving three census block groups away, and remaining at zero thereafter.

It is worth noting that this study looked only at legal VGT wagering. In Pennsylvania, some proponents of VGTs claim there are as many as 40,000 illegal VGT machines already in use in the state.

What does this mean for Pennsylvania gaming?

Critics of VGTs tend to oppose VGTs for a couple of reasons. One is that these machines, moreso than online gambling, pose a threat to the already struggling land-based Pennsylvania casinos.

The other is one this study directly addresses, which is crime. The Pennsylvania proposal could authorize up to 50,000 VGTs within the Keystone State. While they would likely end up mostly in bars and restaurants, the vague wording of the law opens them up to be other places like senior citizen homes.

Opponents continually site this notion of a “casino on every street.” In fact, Sands Corporation bankrolled a media campaign against the measure that featured a commercial warning nursing homes could be affected.

On the flip side, proponents will claim the state already has VGTs, just underground ones, so the other side is exaggerating the scale of any increase in crime.

Either way, this study will likely come up on Sept. 19 when both sides of the issue for the hearing on VGTs.

About

Jessica Welman is the managing editor of PlayPennsylvania. A longtime poker media presence, Jess has worked as a tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour, co-hosted a podcast for Poker Road, and served as the managing editor for WSOP.com.