PA Lawmakers Proposes Allowing VGTs In Clubs; Issue Was Toxic Last Year

Controversial VGT Issue Resurfaces In Pennsylvania With Possible Implications For Larger Gaming Reforms

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Pennsylvania State Rep. Anthony DeLuca has introduced a new piece of gaming legislation seeking to authorize a limited number of video gaming terminals (VGTs) in non-profit clubs across the state.

The bill, HB 469, is currently a standalone proposal, but could be rolled into a larger gaming reform package introduced last week (HB 392) if it garners enough support in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

If this comes to pass, it could prove extremely problematic for online gambling and daily fantasy sports legalization in Pennsylvania.

What the bill seeks to do

DeLuca’s bill is similar to the VGT proposal from last year, with the club, the terminal operator, and the state all splitting revenue evenly. But there is one key difference.

The bill would only authorize VGTs at “clubs” such as VFWs.

“It is imperative that the Commonwealth is able to strike the delicate balance between closing the state’s revenue gap, acknowledging the mutually beneficial arrangement with the Gaming industry, and supporting the clubs and organizations that give so much back to the citizens of Pennsylvania,” DeLuca wrote in his co-sponsorship memoranda from January.

“I firmly believe that by limiting Video Gaming Machines to nonprofit clubs as defined in the Liquor Code, we are able to effectively achieve this goal,” DeLuca went on to say.

VGTs caused a commotion in 2016

Last summer, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a gaming reform bill that would have, among other things, legalized online gambling and daily fantasy sports in the Keystone State.

The passage of the bill was not without issue. A group of lawmakers made a hard push for an alternative bill that also included the authorization of VGTs in taverns and social clubs throughout the state.

The VGT issue nearly derailed the legislation in the House, as lawmakers became confused as to which bill authorized VGTs and which was the “clean” bill. This led to a flubbed vote, where the VGT-laced bill and the clean bill were both voted down.

Eventually a revote was taken with the VGT measure once again failing, while the gaming reform package without VGTs was passed and sent to the Pennsylvania Senate.

The VGT bill from 2016 may not have passed the House, but it did have a lot of support (it failed by a vote of 66-122). With the gaming reform package spilling into this year’s legislative session, it’s not surprising to see VGTs making a return appearance.

Even though it’s been scaled back, the VGT issue could be troublesome if it gets attached to the larger gaming reform bill and the House has the votes to pass it, which it very well could due to its more limited scope.

A poison pill in the PA Senate

As was the case last year, a bill with a provision for VGTs is unlikely to find success in the Senate.

As Chris Grove wrote last year:

“The inclusion of VGTs in any online gambling bill was widely regarded as a poison pill, as Pennsylvania’s land-based casinos – the primary advocate for online gambling – made it clear that VGT authorization was an absolute non-starter.”

A big reason for the Senate’s opposition to VGTs is that the casino industry views VGTs as highly cannibalistic and will push back against their inclusion in any legislation.

VGTs are viewed negatively enough that if it comes down to a gaming reform bill with VGTs or nothing, Pennsylvania casinos could very well advocate for nothing.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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