Truck Stop VGTs Proliferate in PA, Expansion to Bars and Social Clubs Nixed for Now

Posted on July 10, 2020

The hammer is back down for the spread of truck stop-based video gaming terminalsVGTs – in the less populous areas of Pennsylvania, away from regular 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 idled at truck stops 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.

Just this week the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) made a scad of conditional approvals for preliminarily licensing additional sites, according to a PGCB spokesperson. Additionally, IGT had its Crystal line of VGTs approved for use in PA at the same PGCB hearing.

They first rolled out in August 2019. And four new sites were fully licensed in April.

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 are approved, though just 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.

Authorities, however, 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 just $5.

Additionally, to host VGTs, the truck stops must:

  • Be equipped with diesel islands
  • Sell, on average, 50,000 gallons of diesel or biodiesel fuel every month for the previous 12, 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 Pennsylvania Turnpike.

PA charges operators a 52 percent tax on all revenues. Of that, 42 percent of the gross revenue goes into a Video Gaming Fund which the state then deposits in its General Fund. Another 10 percent 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.

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Written by
Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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