Republican senators have been working tirelessly on an effort to bring a sweeping gambling expansion to the state of Pennsylvania before lawmakers break for the summer. The proposal, led by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, would bring an influx of video gaming terminals (VGTs) to the state. The majority of the effort was worked on behind closed doors, and now as the details of the bill have been shared, many are raising concerns about the proposal. Now officials are scrambling in an attempt to direct their efforts toward a resolution that will help push this bill before the summer holiday begins.
Details of Proposal
The new proposal is the result of a collaboration between Republican senators and lobbyists for large video gaming companies. The two have paired up in an attempt to bring VGTs to thousands of bars, taverns, social clubs, and other establishments holding a liquor license. A draft copy of the bill states that VGTs would be allowed at the majority of nearly 15,000 establishments currently holding a liquor license in the state. Each establishment could have up to five terminals, which could mean nearly 50,000 VGTs would become available if the bill is passed. Similar VGTs are currently operational at truck stops throughout the state, but these machines are not regulated and taxed, which is part of the reason why Republicans have brought the latest proposal to the table.
The Republican Senators in favor of the bill see it as an opportunity to capitalize on untapped revenue, as well as a way to offer safe and regulated VGTs to residents. Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman stated that the proposal was not necessarily about a sweeping gambling expansion, but rather a way to control and regulate the existing skill game terminals that are operating throughout the state. Many officials have questioned the legality of these terminals, some even calling for their removal. The latest proposal would regulate these terminals, while ensuring that the state benefits from the revenue produced.
Corman estimates that the proposal could raise up to $250 million annually. Under the current circumstances, this revenue could be directed toward mitigating the damage dealt from the coronavirus pandemic. In the future, the goal would be to direct this revenue to help freeze property taxes for senior citizens.
Many Officials Have Reservations
Since the behind-the-scenes campaign has come to the fore, many have found flaws in the plan and are questioning the timing of the proposal. The mounting challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic have forced many of the businesses in which these VGTs would be placed to close their doors for some time. Although businesses throughout the country are slowly beginning to reopen, the threat of the virus spreading remains and the safety of these terminals has come into question.
Additionally, many of the large gaming companies involved in the push for the new proposal were responsible for the funding of Scarnati’s campaign, leading many to question the integrity of the new proposal. Pennsylvania’s casinos have also weighed in, arguing that a gaming expansion this large could infringe upon their revenue, which has already taken a major hit from closures caused by the pandemic.
Timeline for the Proposal
The Senators pushing the bill have been optimistic about the expansion, but the mounting concerns and lack of support from Republicans and Democrats alike suggest that there is still a long way to go before these terminals become a reality. As of Tuesday, there were not enough votes from the Republicans to move the proposal forward, yet leaders were still hopeful that a vote could take place this week. If they fail to do so, it will be a race against the clock, as the legislature will break for summer at the end of the month, and they will not return again until September.