PA Lawmakers Consider Expanding Reach of Video Poker Machines

While Pennsylvania law currently restricts gambling on video poker machines to the state’s land-based casinos, some Commonwealth lawmakers are considering legalizing the activity inside bars, clubs, taverns and restaurants as well.

Motivated by the potential of tapping into a new revenue stream, the house held a hearing on the video poker issue last week. “Machines are already here, we know that,” said Representative John Payne (R-Dauphin). “I mean, I belong to two clubs and they have machines. Those machines are not currently legal under Pennsylvania law.”

Payne believes that allowing more businesses to offer video poker could generate as much as $500 million a year. In making his case, the representative highlights the $1.4 billion that Illinois makes annually off such machines.

Using a similar argument as those hoping to legalize online poker, Payne says that businesses are already allowing customers to use video poker machines, so why not legalize it and let the government get a cut? Furthermore, he believes that if the industry is expanded, players will avoid problems in receiving payouts from unscrupulous business owners.

Casinos stand to lose big

The state’s land-based casinos, however, are vehemently opposed to Payne’s video poker expansion plan. They argue that bars and restaurants don’t have to comply with the same regulations with which casinos are burdened. They also believe that if legalized, revenue will simply be diverted from physical casinos to bars and taverns, meaning a loss of jobs without any increase in overall revenue for the state.

“We hope Pennsylvania will look closely at the profoundly negative impact these convenience slot machines in bars and taverns in Illinois have had on our investment and the jobs we’ve created before heading down this path,” said Eric Schippers of Penn National Gaming.

Payne insists that the opposite is true – more machines are needed in order to protect the state’s casinos. “If we sit here and don’t do anything in Pennsylvania, we will be closing casinos over the next 10 years and I don’t want that to happen,” he said.

The representative is also actively working on legalizing “casino run Internet gaming to give the casinos a financial boost.” He is looking into legalizing fantasy sports as well, hoping to tap into that business which has caught fire in the US over the last few years.

“If I, John Payne, have a choice between doing a revenue enhancement on the gaming side or taking a tax vote to increase the income tax, I’m voting to do more gaming,” he said.

Pennsylvania gambling regulators have already come under fire for awarding a casino license to a joint venture between Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment and Cordish Cos. The partners plan to build their casino in Philadelphia’s Stadium District, hoping to leverage the large crowds which pass through the area. Analysts believe that the market is already saturated and the addition of a new casino will only lead to cannibalization.