In a recent news release, Rutter’s, a well-known central Pennsylvania gas station and convenience store, announced an aggressive plan for expansion, which is expected to add 50 new locations over the next five years.
The plan will also feature continued implementation of video gaming terminals (VGTs) at store locations. It includes extensive renovations and expanded alcohol sales, as well.
At present, Rutter’s has 82 locations in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. In PA, 21 locations currently have video gaming terminals, which makes Rutter’s the largest licensed gambling operator in the state that isn’t a casino.
With expansion, the company will stretch its footprint to add locations across PA. There’s a focus on areas west of Pittsburgh, north of Altoona, farther east near Philadelphia and into the new markets of Virginia and Delaware.
Rutter’s expansion will deploy more regulated VGTs in PA
New customers will soon get to know the Rutter’s brand. They will also gain easier access to video game terminals in the process.
“Thanks to our foodservice innovation, focus on industry leading wages, large breath of offerings and best-in-class customer experience, we find that our locations are the customer favorite in new and existing markets,” Rutters CEO and president Scott Hartman said in the news release.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) views VGTs as very similar to the slot machines that are in Pennsylvania casinos.
Every VGT play has a randomly generated outcome, which is the same way slot machines work.
Pennsylvania’s gaming law sets the maximum bet allowed on a VGT at $5. The maximum payout is $1,000. The law also requires VGTs to have a minimum theoretical payout of 85%. That’s the same return-to-player rate (RTP) slot machines must provide in Pennsylvania casinos.
Did unregulated skill games limit VGT yearly revenue?
Earlier this month, the PGCB released the numbers for gaming revenue in December and video game terminals saw a slight drop (-0.71%) in year-over-year totals from December 2021.
In the calendar year of 2022, VGTs generated more than $42 million in gaming revenue, a slight increase from 2021 by about 5.6%.
The leading operator of VGTs was clearly Marquee by Penn, which produced more than $25 million in the year, whereas J&J Ventures Gaming ($12,174,249) and Jango Entertainment ($4,383,109) produced much smaller shares.
One of the factors that might help explain the lack of more growth experienced by the state’s VGTs is the proliferation of illegal skill games that siphon play away from the VGTs.
Commonwealth Gaming Vice President Amy Christie recently criticized Josh Shapiro (who was the state’s attorney general at the time) for a policy of non-enforcement in regards to the unregulated skill games.
Christie’s complaints seem to have some merit. Delaware County’s District Attorney told PlayPennsylvania he believes there are more than 20,000 of the devices in his county alone. Meanwhile, the number of regulated slots and VGTs estimates at fewer than 24,000 in the entire state.
Penn Entertainment CEO is also wary of skill games
Penn Entertainment CEO Jay Snowden has also expressed unhappiness with skill games, calling them “an existential issue for the industry” at a G2E keynote session last October.
Unregulated skill games steer players away from regulated machines and other environments. They also prevent the proper taxes from being applied. Pennsylvania’s slots are taxed at 54%, whereas unregulated skill games are untaxed.
This issue is likely to serve as a continued source of controversy within the state’s gaming landscape. There are currently several lawsuits between skill game developers, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BLCE) and the PGCB. A clear decision on the matter does not seem likely to arrive anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Rutter’s will greatly expand its own footprint and also bring many more legal, regulated and appropriately-taxed VGTs into Pennsylvania.