Video gambling terminals (VGTs) are opening monthly throughout Pennsylvania, though the average gambler may never notice them.
They are under the radar. Machines can operate only at approved diesel fuel truck stops.
The first went into service in August 2019. Now there are 34 locations, each with just five machines, the maximum allowed in an approved location. That means 170 machines are in service.
The PlayPennsylvania revenue tracker tabulates how much the machines bring in for the state each month.
According to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), VGTs are very similar to the slot machines you might find at any one of 12 Pennsylvania casinos. Every VGT play has a randomly generated outcome from the previous play, the same way it does at a slot machine.
VGTs accept only cash, no credit or debit cards. By law, the maximum bet allowed on a VGT is $5. The maximum payout is $1,000.
The law requires a minimum theoretical payout percentage for VGTs of 85 percent. That’s the same return to player rate slot machines must provide in Pennsylvania casinos. That means that over the long haul, VGTs in PA should pay out 85 cents of every dollar put into them.
Illegal VGTs in PA
Researchers estimate there are 20,000 to 40,000 illegal VGTs operating at various bars, restaurants, and social clubs across Pennsylvania today.
To stop this illegal activity and start collecting taxes, the state considered several options before striking a compromise. Both the House and the Senate passed a comprehensive gambling expansion package. It includes the authorization of VGTs at certain truck stops. Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law soon after.
PGCB has since detailed regulations for VGTs at the truck stops.
But in early summer, 2020, a PA State Senator recently unsuccessfully floated a major expansion during closed-door discussions in the Republican caucus. His proposal would have expanded VGT licensing to include bars, social clubs, and other locations with liquor licenses.
His proposal failed to gain traction before the legislative recess. Both sides believe the proposal could be back around November – budget time.
Legal and regulated VGTs in PA
The gaming board opened the application process on May 7, 2019. New locations are frequently added.
To host VGTs, the truck stops must:
- Have diesel islands
- Sell, on average, 50,000 gallons of diesel or biodiesel fuel every month. Or project sales of 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
- Sit on a lot no smaller than three acres not owned by Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Pennsylvania counties hosting one of the state’s 12 casinos have opted-out of having VGTs at truck stops. Which explains why VGTs are in the less populous parts of the state.
As of the end of 2019, the PGCB had reported there were 20 facilities, each with five legal VGTs in operation. VGT sites are should double to 40 by the end of 2020, which would bring total machines to 200.
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.
The state is charging operators a hefty 52 percent tax on all revenues. Of that 42 percent of the gross revenue generated by VGTs is going into a newly established Video Gaming Fund. The state will then deposit this money in its General Fund.
Another 10 percent of the gross revenue from VGTs is earmarked for grants to various counties through the Commonwealth Finance Agency.
VGTs bring tax revenue increases in other states
In some states, such as Illinois, VGTs are widely authorized for any establishment serving alcohol. Since 2012, they have become major revenue generators, surpassing riverboat casinos.
- Bald Eagle Truck Stop: 612 McElhattan Drive, McElhattan, PA 17748, Clinton County
- Kwik-Fill: 5574 PA-8, Harrisville, PA 16038, Butler County
- Love’s Travel Stop: 440 West Third Street, Mifflinville, PA 18631, Columbia County
- Travel Center of America: 5600 Nittany Valley Drive, Lamar, PA 16848, Clinton County
- Travel Centers of America: 6 Buckhorn Road, Bloomsburg, PA 17815, Columbia County
- Love’s Travel Stop: 22 Old Forge Road, Jonestown, PA 17038, Lebanon County
- Love’s Travel Stop: 1165 Harrisburg Pike, Carlisle, PA 17013, Lebanon County
- Love’s Travel Stop: 3700 Mountain Road, Hamburg, PA 19526, Berks County
- Rutter’s Store: 100 Grand Street, Hamburg, PA 19526, Berks County
- Rutter’s Store: 20 Commerce Drive, York, PA 17403, York County
- Rutter’s Store: 201 Cool Springs Road, Wrightsville, PA 17368, York County
- Rutter’s Store: 2125 Susquehanna Trail, York, PA 17403, York County
- Rutter’s Store: 27335 Route 75 North, Mifflintown, PA 17059, Juanita County
- Rutter’s Store: 3050 Heidlersburg Road, York Springs, PA 17372, Adams County
- Rutter’s Store: 362 North Main Street, York, PA 17403, York County
- Rutter’s Store: 362 North Main Street, York, PA 17403, Cumberland County
- Rutter’s Store: 4425 West Market Street, York, PA 17404, York County
- Rutter’s Store: 20 Commerce Drive, Milroy, PA 17063, Mifflin County
- Rutter’s Store: 15 New Enterprise Drive, Leesport, PA 19533, Berks County
- Travel Centers of America: 1201 Harrisburg Pike, Carlisle, PA 17013, Cumberland County
- Rutter’s Store: 77 Benvenue Road, Duncannon, PA 17020, Perry County
- Rutter’s Store: 2215 Old Trail Road, Etters, PA 17319, York County
- Rutter’s Store: 2115 East Berlin Road, East Berlin PA, 17316, Adams County
- Keystone Restaurant & Truck Stop: 190 Keystone Road, Loretto, PA 15940, Cambria County
- Lawrence Exxon: 13305 Highway 44, Lawrenceville, PA 16929, Tioga County
- Liberty Exxon: 8489 Rt. 414, Liberty, PA 16930, Tioga County
- Rutter’s Store: 234 Kuhn Lane, Duncansville, PA 16635, Blair County
- Travel Centers of America:10835 John Wayne Drive, Greencastle, PA 17225, Franklin County
- Emlenton Truck Plaza: 6446 Emlenton-Clinton Road, Emlenton, PA 16373, Venango County
- Kwik-Fill: 73 Rolling Stone Road, Kylertown, PA 16847, Clearfield County
- Kwik Fill: 1001 East Spring St., Titusville PA 16354, Crawford County
- Snow Shoe Travel Plaza: Interstate 80, Snow Shoe, PA 16874, Centre County
- Travel Centers of America: 245 Allegheny Boulevard., Brookville, PA 15825, Jefferson County
- Geneva Truck Stop: 17400 Smock Drive, Cochranton PA 16314, Crawford County