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PA Senate Meeting To Talk VGTs, But Don’t Get Too Excited, No Vote Yet

Harrisburg state capitol
On Sept. 19, Pennsylvania Senators will gather to discuss video gambling terminals (VGTs). The bad news is it is not for a vote.

Instead, the Senate Law & Justice Committee will hold a hearing where VGTs are on the docket for debate.

Sen. McIlhinney called for VGT discussion

The chairman of the committee, Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, called for the hearing. In a statement about the hearing on his website, McIlhinney did not hold back his disdain for VGTs.

“I guess we should thank the House for bringing this issue to light, though I find it disturbing that members of this legislature may have known about possible illegal gaming machines and done nothing about it. We will be holding hearings on the issue of legal gaming machines and, as part of that process, will focus significant energy on addressing and ending this scourge of illegal VGT’s across the Commonwealth.”

Currently the gambling expansion package sits idle in the Senate. Both the Senate and the House are at odds on the measure. The conflict is not over daily fantasy sports or online casinos. It appears the real dealbreaker is VGTs.

Many members in both the House and the Senate oppose the inclusion of VGTs in the bill. Opponents point out these gambling terminals in places like bars and truck stops are problematic for several reasons:

  • Brings a casino element to neighborhoods who do not want casinos
  • Could cannibalize the existing brick and mortar casino business
  • Possibly contributes to the prevalence of “Stop & Go” liquor stores in the stae

These Stop & Go gas stations are part of the upcoming hearing too. These are convenience stores who hold the proper restaurant permits to sell alcohol, but skirt the law by offering them in a way akin to a bar.

McIlhinney most vocal VGT critic

McIlhinney is proving to be the most outspoken lawmaker when it comes to opposition of VGTs. Given his constituency, McIlhinney has reason to worry. He represents Bucks County, home of Parx Casino. Parx and most other casinos oppose VGTs in the state.

McIlhinney recently voiced his opinion in an Letter to the Editor for The Intelligencer. In it, he specifically cited the needs of his own community:

“Quite simply, I remain steadfast in my opposition to VGTs because I agree with the people I represent that this is simply the wrong option for our community and our state. Bucks County does not need up to 3,000 of these machines scattered throughout our communities with little to no concern for where they are located.”

It is worth noting though that Parx is also one of the two casinos in the state lobbying against online gambling. Both Parx and Sands Bethlehem, the two biggest casinos in the state, oppose online gambling regulation.

Sands Bethlehem owner Sheldon Adelson is a notorious opponent of online gambling. Parx, on the other hand, seems to be more interested in preserving the status quo. They are one of the few Pennsylvania casinos without an online gambling partner already. Therefore, regulated Pennsylvania online gambling could jeopardize its status as one of the top dogs.

McIlhinney has not spoken out on online gambling during this period of unrest over the budget and the gambling expansion bill though.

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.