The Duel

PA Senate to Hold Hearing on Skill Games and VGTs

Olufifun Adeleke

With the ongoing battle against illegal gambling, the Keystone state's senate needs to clear the air about which games are legal and which are illegal. There is no specific body regulating casinos in Pennsylvania, so this battle against illegal gambling devices is a relatively new development.

Skill games and Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs) have been a point of contention in the past. There has been an issue around their legality despite these gaming categories being very profitable in PA. The profitability of these games has brought them to the spotlight, and that's why the Senate is looking to regulate these businesses. Clarity is expected on this matter with the upcoming Senate hearing on the 6th of October.

The Senate hearing to discuss the state's budget is slated to be on the 5th of October. The discussions concerning the state's budget have been ongoing for a while but with the pressure placed on the economy as a result of COVID-19 and the upcoming elections, the Senate needs to start working on the budget.

The hearing concerning skill games and VGTs is unrelated to the budget hearing, but it will hold on the 6th of October. The hearing is based on the 29 page legislative of the senate bill 1256. The bill was sponsored by Senator Jake Corman - a Republican leader - on the 30th of July, and has been discussed in private with other Republicans. With this bill, thousands of VGTs will be added to different recreational facilities in the state.

The bill is expected to help an ailing economy do better. The bill mentions that by regulating skill games and VGTs, the state can collect revenues from these games, thus boosting the state's economy. How much revenue this will bring to the state is not clearly stated in the bill, and there isn't any part that talks about how much tax will be collected from these games.

Senator Jake Corman also said that regulating the VGTs and skill games will limit the excessive increase of these games in the state.

However, the 12 casinos in the state (and the 13th casino, which has yet to launch), are fully against the bill. A letter was sent from PA's casino industry against this bill on the 17th of September.

The letter, addressing the damage that will be done to the casino industry stated that “Expanding VGTs to liquor licensees would result in as many as 85,000 gambling machines being added to the state – which is more than three times the current number of slot machines in all of Pennsylvania’s casinos combined. Similarly, legalizing (and thereby rewarding) the currently illegal skill game slot machines that are prevalent in bars, convenience stores, gas stations, and other businesses would cause tremendous damage to our industry and the nearly 20,000 Pennsylvanians we are proud to employ, as well as negatively impact the Pennsylvania Lottery and the public interest. SB 1256 does exactly that.”

Other points addressed in the letter include the losses that the casino industry has suffered as a result of the pandemic, and how passing this bill will result in more losses. They also mentioned how much they contribute to the Commonwealth.

Pace-O-Matic, the chief distributor of skill games in PA, is also strongly against the bill. They have also been seen strongly opposing their rivals as they believe their games to be legal and the others illegal.

There has been no word from the governor of the state and the PGCB and the PA state police stay strong in their fight against illegal gambling devices.

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