The hammer is back down for the spread of truck stop-based video gaming terminals (VGTs) in the less populous areas of Pennsylvania, away from land-based casinos.
For a time, the slot-like machines had quit rollin’ on, the VGT convoy a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.
VGTs at truck stops idled by virus
In February, they generated a tax revenue income of $697,806. By April, the revenue number was a big fat zero. VGTs were shuttered along with casinos and horse racing in mid-March. Just recently, they were allowed to resume operations again.
This week, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) made a score of conditional approvals for preliminarily licensing for additional sites, according to a PGCB spokesperson. IGT had its Crystal line of VGTs approved for use in PA at the same PGCB hearing.
VGTs back on the road again
Eventually, there should be more than 60 VGT locations in the state. Perhaps 120 truck stops might meet the qualifying criteria, though not all have applied.
To date, 38 VGT licenses have been approved, though only 28 locations are operating.
Assuming five machines are in play at each operating site, that means just 140 machines are in use at all licensed sites.
However, authorities estimate there could be tens of thousands of unlicensed VGTs in the Quaker State.
VGT truck stop regs
By law, each VGT location may operate as many as five machines. The machines have randomly generated outcomes, like slots. They must have a return rate of 85%. The max bet is $5.
Additionally, to host VGTs, the truck stops must:
- Be equipped with diesel islands
- Have sold, on average, 50,000 gallons of diesel or biodiesel fuel every month for the previous 12 months, or be projected to sell an average of 50,000 gallons for the next 12 months
- Have at least 20 parking spaces dedicated for commercial motor vehicles
- Maintain a convenience store
- Be a PA Lottery Sales Agent
- Be situated on a lot no smaller than three acres not owned by the Pennsylvania Turnpike
PA charges operators a 52% tax on all revenues. Of that, 42% of the gross revenue goes into a Video Gaming Fund, which the state then deposits in its General Fund. Another 10% of the gross revenue goes to grants for counties, administered through the Commonwealth Finance Agency.
Proposal to greatly expand VGTs in PA on hold
In some states, such as Illinois, VGTs are far more widely available and actually bring in more revenue than riverboat casinos.
A PA state senator recently unsuccessfully floated a major expansion during closed-door discussions in the Republican caucus. The proposal would expand VGT licensing to include bars, social clubs and other locations with liquor licenses.
It failed to gain traction by recess, but both sides believe it could be back around November — budget time.
PGCB spokesman Doug Harbach said there was no consultation with the regulatory agency on the proposal. But PGCB is likely to oversee any expansion and placement of VGTs beyond those at truck stops, he added.