PA Senator Not Buying Legalization As Only Remedy To Illegal VGTs

PA Senate Committee To Discuss VGTs At September Hearing As Issue Of Illegal Machines Comes To Forefront

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Passing a gaming reform package that includes the legalization of online gambling and daily fantasy sports will be a top priority when the Pennsylvania Legislature returns to work in September.

The state is counting on revenue from the package to fund the budget, but final passage has eluded the legislature thus far.

It’s not online gaming or DFS that is holding up the process. Rather it’s a separate issue that may or may not be in the final plan: VGTs.

Whether or not the state should legalize VGTs will continue to be a controversial topic. This is evidenced by its inclusion in a recently announced hearing in the Senate Law & Justice Committee scheduled for Sept. 19.

State Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, who chairs the committee, called for the hearing. In addition to VGTs, it will also cover a few other topics, including liquor control enforcement of “Stop-and-Go’s, according to a statement on the senator’s website.

The crux of the VGT argument

In the press release, McIlhinney noted that the pro-VGT crowd recognizes that the state is already overrun with illegal machines. VGT proponents are in favor of the legislature bringing them out of the shadows and putting some money in the state’s coffers in the process.

VGT opponents argue that bringing these machines out of backrooms would increase their footprint and popularity. This would negatively impact the state’s casinos, opponents claim.

McIlhinney believes this is a false choice. He asserted there are methods to deal with the illegal machines short of legalization.

Is there no other way to handle illegal VGTs in PA?

As such, the hearing has less to do with the prospect of legalizing VGTs. It has more to do with what can be done about the current illegal machines in use throughout the state.

In his statement, McIlhinney quoted an op-ed written by VGT supporter Mark Mustio, who recently wrote in the Delco Times, “… thousands of illegal VGTs are here in Pennsylvania, right now. They are being operated out of locations with no regulation, no oversight, and no money back to local and state governments.”

In response McIlhinney wrote:

“I guess we should thank the House for bringing this issue to light, though I find it disturbing that members of this legislature may have known about possible illegal gaming machines and done nothing about it.

“We will be holding hearings on the issue of legal gaming machines and, as part of that process, will focus significant energy on addressing and ending this scourge of illegal VGT’s across the Commonwealth.

“I think it is important that we show the people of Pennsylvania we can address the problem of illegal VGTs before we talk about adding 55,000 new machines into venues across the state.”

What this means for Pennsylvania’s gaming reform package

VGTs are largely believed to be the singular issue that prevented the legislature from passing a gaming reform package earlier this year.

The hearing is a further sign that the Senate and House have irreconcilable differences on this issue. It’s still unclear which side will win, or how unbending the pro-VGT crowd is on this issue.

Every time it appears the House VGT supporters are ready to stand down in order to pass the gaming reform package, there is a last-minute change that upends the apple cart.

When the legislature returns in September we’ll find out:

  • if they have the votes to bring VGTs into the folds of the gaming reform package, or
  • if they can continue to stall the process and possibly derail the rest of the gaming reform package, including online gambling, if they don’t get their way.

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- 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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