Pennsylvania: Online Poker Hinges on VGTs
Only two states really remain in play for legalizing online poker in the United States this year. Illinois has a slim chance, while Pennsylvania remains closer than ever before.
Everything points to Pennsylvania doing the deed. The state’s casinos support online gambling, as New Jersey’s success with the burgeoning industry shows a complimentary and beneficial relationship between online sites and land-based casinos. Pennsylvania is also in desperate need of a new revenue stream. Online gambling would provide that, as well as new jobs and an even more competitive gambling enterprise that is now second in the United States only that of Nevada.
It was close to happening in 2016, and the House managed to pass a gambling expansion bill that included online gambling, daily fantasy sports, and online lottery sales. The original inclusion of video gaming terminals was the most contentious part of the debate on both sides of the legislature, and the complications that emerged were too much for the Senate to handle. In the face of a budget deadline and not enough middle ground on VGTs, the gambling issue was sidelined.
Gambling expansion came up in the legislature in the first weeks of 2017 and remained a priority as bills moved through both houses. Eventually, the Senate passed a shell bill, the House filled it with gambling expansion details and passed it, but the Senate then saw the addition of VGTs and balked.
Again, VGTs are the problem.
What Exactly are VGTs?
Video gaming terminals are very similar to slot machines but operate outside the realm of a traditional casino. They are proposed for numerous locations, such as off-track betting parlors, airports, bars and restaurants, and private clubs.
Supporters point to the additional revenue for Pennsylvania’s coffers, far beyond that expected from online gambling or DFS. They say it will make the state even more competitive in the gambling industry as a whole, and small businesses will benefit from attracting new customers and keeping them in their seats for longer periods of time.
Opponents say the plethora of gambling opportunities will damage the brick-and-mortar casinos, as players will be able to find slot machines at any bar or restaurant. That will lead to job losses in casinos, they say, and money missing from lottery sales that is spent first on VGTs. In addition, Governor Tom Wolf has expressed opposition to VGTs, and the Senate does not have enough votes to support it.
Lobbyists for VGTs, however, are determined to keep VGTs in any gambling expansion bill to force the issue. They know that casinos support online gambling, voters want DFS, and online lottery sales are widely regarded as a positive step. By insisting on attaching VGTs to any bill gives them a better chance of finding support. However, those opposed to VGTs are not budging, and they have shown that they are willing to scrap the entire gambling expansion bill to avoid authorizing VGTs.
PPA Pushes for VGT Removal
Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas has been working to legalize online poker in Pennsylvania for several years. And knowing that VGTs are standing in the way, the consumer lobbying organization is ready to take a stand.
When Legal US Poker Sites talked to Pappas last week, he did not mince words about the singular problem keeping online gambling from passing in Pennsylvania. “The VGT community is trying to make a power play to be included. The Senate has said very clearly that they don’t have the votes to pass VGTs; therefore, let’s remove it for now and do the stuff we all agree on, which includes i-gaming. But the insistence on the House to include VGTs means that the Senate will just not accept it.”
While the PPA has been urging Pennsylvania residents to contact their legislators in support of online poker for well over two years, the message is now changing. According to Pappas, “The message is now for poker players to contact their lawmakers and tell them VGTs will have their time, but it’s not now. Let’s slow down and just go with i-gaming, where we have consensus in the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis.”
Most legislators want the gambling expansion bill to pass, especially with the revenue and job growth it will bring. The governor feels the same. The PPA is urging everyone to then make the logical choice and remove VGTs from the bill so it can pass.
“I think the VGTs are a bump in the road,” said Pappas, “and it’s resolvable.”
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