Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill on June 2. His office has yet to comment.
The Keystone State has 67 counties. Of them, 12 counties were automatically allowed to opt-out of having VGTs because each already hosts a casino.
Each of these casino host counties quickly opted out of adding VGTs:
Opt-out law means Lancaster can say no to VGTs
The state’s 2017 gaming expansion law ushered in the prospect of VGTs at approved truck stop locations. However, it left the state’s counties without casinos with no means to just say “no.”
As a result, five of the more than 60 pending VGT applications are located in Lancaster County, an area that has emphatically said no to all other forms of gambling.
While the law does not name Lancaster County, it is the only county which meets the population requirement in the bill. The upcoming census might add more.
Lancaster primed for five proposed VGT locations
The county already has five proposed locations which met the conditional approval criteria set by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) before the law was enacted.
The law goes into effect immediately now that Wolf has signed it.
Towns now have 60 days pass an opt-out resolution. But the bill also has a provision to allow for opting back in.
The law was sponsored by two Republican state Senators representing Lancaster County, Ryan Aument, and Scott Martin. The legislation had bipartisan support in the Legislature.
Amish-centric Lancaster County avoids all gambling
Previously, each of Lancaster County’s 60 municipalities had rejected hosting a casino.
But the spillover from a Berks County mini-casino recently approved by PGCB illustrates the limitations of even that provision.
Hollywood Morgantown was approved for Caernarvon Township Berks County, but the effects will flow into Lancaster County’s adjoining Caernarvon Township, which did not want a casino. The two Caernarvons and several other small towns in three counties, including Lancaster, are parts of the Morgantown zip code.
Lancaster is a large county of more than 500,000 residents in South Central Pennsylvania known for its agriculture and a significant Amish community. Amish avoid all forms of gambling for religious reasons.
Communities need to pass an anti-VGT resolution
The new law means Lancaster communities can simply pass resolutions to prevent VGTs from full approval within their borders.
The PGCB on Wednesday issued a release spelling out the the process.
In part, the board’s statement reads:
Municipal option for gaming provides that a municipality may, by delivering a resolution of the municipality’s governing body to the Board by August 31, 2019, prohibit the location of an establishment licensee within the municipality.
Municipalities must forward their opt-out resolution to the PGCB’s secretary before the deadline. Notices of all resolutions will be posted weekly to board’s website.
Three of the five Lancaster County applications were by Rutter’s, a York-based convenience store chain with 70 outlets in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia.
A proposed Rutter’s VGT location in Strasburg, Lancaster County had already provoked pushback over zoning regulations adopted to prevent VGTs from operating in the borough.
A Rutter’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Requirements to offer VGTs
VGTs installations can only have five machines and only approved truck stops may host them.
The terminals are similar to slot machines as a random number generator determines the outcome. The machines only take cash and accept a maximum bet of $5 per round.
The gaming board stipulates a base return-to-player (RTP) rate of 85 cents to a dollar. That’s the same RTP as PA slot machines.
Under the law’s definition, a truck stop must:
- Have diesel islands
- Sell an average of 50,000 gallons of diesel monthly
- Have at least 20 truck parking spaces
- Have a convenience store
- Maintain at least a 3-acre parcel of land
- Sell PA Lottery tickets
- Offer showers for drivers