Remember VGTs? Well, They Are Coming To PA In Early 2019

Written By Grant Lucas on December 21, 2018
truck with oversized load sign

Keno, online lottery and sports betting are already underway in Pennsylvania. In a few months, online casinos will launch. So, too, will a point of contention from when legislation was introduced in 2017.

Beginning in the first quarter of 2019, video gambling terminals  (VGTs) will start cropping up at various truck stops around the Keystone StatePennsylvania Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach confirmed the launch plans.

These machines are reminiscent of mini-casinos in a jukebox. They were not well received by several municipalities in the state when added to the gambling bill. However, 62 establishments with truck stops have applied for licensing to host VGTs. So far, 23 have conditional approval from the PGCB.

The next wave of PA gambling

While PA sports betting recently kicked off, VGTs are on the sideline ready to enter the game.

Similar to casino slot machines, VGTs have outcomes determined by a random number generator. They operate on cash only and accept maximum bets of $5 per round. They also have a return to player rate (RTP) of at least 85 cents a dollar, which is the same as slot machines in PA casinos.

Truck stops eligible to house VGTs must meet several criteria:

  • Sell an average of 50,000 gallons per month in diesel fuels
  • Have 20 dedicated parking spots for commerical motor vehicles
  • Sit on a parcel of at least three acres

Pennsylvania began accepting applications in May. Sixty locations submitted requests to operate up to five machines each.

These truck stops must establish areas to place the machines which are open only to customers 21 years and older. These sites are also required to have live or video surveillance. Employees must undergo training to recognize problem gambling as well. Additionally, all applicants are subject to character and suitability requirements.

Municipalities object, yet have no say

For clarification, counties that currently host one of the state’s 12 casinos had the opportunity to opt out of staging VGTs at their truck stops. Every one of those counties did just that.

Other than that, counties with qualified truck stops do not have a say in the matter. If a facility decides to apply for VGTs, it can do so freely.

That has rubbed some officials the wrong way, such as in Lancaster County.

From LancasterOnline, Strasburg Mayor Bruce Ryder:

“We are not in favor of the video gaming terminals but that (decision) has been taken away from our hands. It was written in such a way that municipalities really have no say.”

And from East Lampeter Township Supervisor Ethan Demme:

“I am opposed to bringing them into East Lampeter. I don’t see any increased public benefit, social or economic.”

Strasburg police chief Steve Echternach also expressed concern, calling the implementation of VGTs “a horrible idea.”

“(Gambling) is just conducive to illegal activity. It would not have a positive impact to the quality of life of the residents in the greater Strasburg area.”

Echternach noted that he read the gambling expansion bill, adding that it “was written by the lobby that supports the convenience store industry.”

That reasoning is common among detractors. But it also stems from misperception.

Clearing up confusion regarding VGTs

Opponents of VGTs created advertisements condemning VGTs when lawmakers were hashing out the gambling bill’s details. Those ads, along with voiced and written opinions, paint a bleak picture of a world that includes VGTs.

Thousands of these machines will line the streets, those voices say. In restaurants, bars, nursing homes, even next to schools, churches, and playgrounds. This logic makes it seem like VGTs will become something like a Starbucks franchise, one on every corner.

Perhaps they envision VGTs as the unregulated gambling machines found throughout the state. These are not legal VGTs. And these legal, regulated machines will not be as widespread as believed.

After all, qualified truck stops can only house a maximum of five machines. If the 60 or so applicants are all approved, that adds up to a mere 300 VGTs, assuming those locations opt for the max.

To boot, these truck stops are inspected by the PGCB, just as it does with casinos and sportsbooks, among other things.

Only truck stops can possess VGTs. Plans to include locations with shower or laundry facilities were scrapped over heated negotiations surround the 2017 gambling expansion bill. There was a discussion about allowing places with liquor licenses to feature VGTs. That, too, was tossed aside.

According to a recent PennLive story, the state is still working toward completing work on a “central computer system” that will monitor all plays in real time.

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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield, and Oregon State athletics and the Portland Trail Blazers throughout his career.

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