Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem Begins $1 Million Ad Campaign to Kill Pennsylvania Bar Gaming Bill
The Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem has launched a million-dollar ad campaign against a bill that would allow casino gambling in Pennsylvania bars. The ad campaign is designed to stop a bill in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to allow gaming machines in clubs and pubs, to help Mom-and-Pop stores across the state.
As Morning Call noted, the ad war is going to be a “doom-and-gloom commercials detailing how VGTs in every neighborhood will gut a statewide casino model that is yielding $1.4 billion in tax money a year“. That is nothing new for the state with the second-most gambling revenues in the United States.
Mark Mustio on Million-Dollar Ad Campaign
State Rep. Mark Mustio, the Republican from Allegheny who is the main sponsor of the bill, said that the ad campaign is misleading. Mustio suggested what many believe about billionaires who spend big dollars on lobbying and public awareness campaigns — that they cannot be doing so badly, if they can afford to spend money on such efforts.
Representative Mustio said, “They are trying to create a boogieman and I’m not interested in playing that game. If they can spend $1 million for an ad campaign, maybe we should raise their taxes.”
John Cunnane on the VLT Expansion
John Cunnane, a gaming and leisure analyst for the Wall Street firm, Stifel Investment Services, says House Bill 1010 is a vast expansion of the gaming industry in Pennsyvlania. Mr. Cunnane said that research suggests that bill calls for an increase of 35,000 to 40,000 new VLTs across the state. The current casino industry has about 27,000 gaming machines.
Mr. Cunnane said the expansion will affect the brick-and-mortar casino business, though they will still get plenty of visitors. The change would be noticeable, thoguh.
Cunnane said, “That’s an insane number of VGTs, and we’ve seen the impact that’s had on casinos in places like Iowa and Illinois. It won’t cause a mass exodus from casinos, but they will feel the pain, no doubt.”
Lisa Boscola on Sands Bethlehem’s Feasibility
State Senator Lisa Boscola, a Democrat from Northampton whose home office is about a mile from the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, said the alarm is somewhat overblown. In Boscola’s opinion, House Bill 1010 does not pose a threat to the casino operation or its jobs.
Sen. Boscola said, “They are entitled to have their ad campaign, but it’s not going to change my vote one way or the other.”
Coalition to Stop Internet Gaming
This is not the first such effort by Sands Bethlehem allies in the state. In recent years, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gaming (CSIG) launched attack ads against State Representative John Payne’s House Bill 649, which would have brought online gambling to Pennsylvania. The attack ads were quite successful in undermining support for a bill that would have brought an estimated $400 million in tax revenues to the state of Pennsylvania.
The ad against HB 649 suggested online gambling was predatory towards children as young as 5 years old. The CGIS campaign suggested that Angry Birds was a gateway to online gambling, because it used “Disney-looking cartoons” to teach kids how to play games online. The ads also suggested online gambling might fund terrorism, though they seem to confuse unregulated online casino sites with the kind of regulated online casinos found in New Jersey’s gaming market.
Still, the attack ads are the latest application of a strategy refined by the Coalition to Stop Internet Gaming, which once pushed Restore America’s Wire Act, a 50-state ban on online gambling, in the United States Congress.
Pennsylvanians For Responsible Government
The money for the anti-bar gambling advertisements is provided by the newly-formed “Pennsylvanians For Responsible Government”, a political action committee designed specifically for the anti-gambling expansion campaign. Like CGIS, Pennsylvanians For Responsible Government is funded by Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corps and owner of the Sands Bethlehem Casino Resort.
The current ad being run by Pennsylvanians For Responsible Government suggests that some Pennsylvania lawmakers want to put gambling terminals in “delis and nursing homes”. The advertisement is paired with 30-second attack ads on radio, along with an online landing page with the shock headline “Greetings from Pennsylvania, Land of 12,000 Casinos”. The effort is designed to portray the proposed expansion of gambling in the state into an omnipresent, predatory thing.
Pennsylvania Tavern Association Ready for Political Battle
Thus, the stage is set for a major political showdown between the state’s land-based casino industry and the Pennsylvania Tavern Association, which wants to place video lottery terminals (VLTs) in local bars and clubs. The idea is to give these local business owners added revenue, in hopes of keeping the small businesses’ finances in good shape.
Tom Boock, the president of the Pennsylvania Tavern Association and owner of the Cottage Pub and Restaurant in Chambersburg, Franklin County, said that the PTA will not back down from Adelson’s challenge. Boock said, “We don’t have $1 million to fight Sands, but we have friends in the Senate and House. We’re not just going to back down to these billionaire casino owners.”
Michael Barley Is Concerned about Casino Jobs
“Pennsylvanians For Responsible Government” spokesman Michael Barley says the bill will hurt the 18,000 casino jobs in the state, while devastating an industry the state has spent the past 14 years building up.
Mr. Barley said, “This proposal would destroy the brick-and-mortar casino industry and risk the nearly $1.4 billion in tax revenues that these establishments generate annually. Worse yet, because VGTs are designed to operate without employees, the 18,000 people casinos collectively employ in Pennsylvania will be put in serious jeopardy.”
House Bill 1010 already might have had an effect on Las Vegas Sands Corp. Over the past few months, it was negotiating a $1.3 billion deal to sell the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem to MGM Resorts International. The deal seemed all-but-concluded when MGM Resorts pulled out of the deal. Speculation is MGM Resorts did its due diligence and decided to end the negotiations because of the potential economic fallout of the VLT bill.
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