VGTs will hurt small businesses, social clubs and veterans’ organizations in the state, along with the marketplace for legal skill games, said Pennsylvania Skill’s spokesman following a Senate hearing today. Pace-O-Matic powers Pennsylvania Skill.
Pennsylvania Skill, made up of amusement and gaming small business owners across the state, questioned why legislative support for video gaming terminals, or VGTs, exists given their history in other states. The comments were based on out-of-state VGT companies testifying at a Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee hearing.
“VGTs have consistently overpromised the amount of revenue they would generate for Pennsylvania and minimized their impact on lottery and casino revenues,” said Mike Barley, spokesman for Pennsylvania Skill. “We don’t want to see a repeat of what has happened in other states.
In Illinois, VGTs were legalized in 2009. At the time, companies predicted they could generate funds to support a $31 billion building program to create jobs and upgrade the state’s infrastructure. In 2017, eight years after the legalization of VGTs, the state had collected less than $1 billion. Illinois lawmakers also were disappointed to find the projected $2.5 billion in state revenue did not materialize.
In addition, regulatory expenses for video gambling proved far higher than anticipated, forcing the state to divert $83 million from casino taxes to support the work of the Illinois Gaming Board.
Barley added that thousands of illegal VGTs are operating in the Commonwealth without a court ruling, and Pennsylvania Skill supports efforts to crack down on those games through regulation and enforcement.
Pennsylvania Skill has been ruled a predominant game of skill by a Court of Common Pleas. That case was never appealed by the Pennsylvania State Police. In order to further cement its legal status, Pennsylvania Skill has filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court.
Locations across the state depend on skill game revenue. At Sprankle’s Neighborhood Markets in western Pennsylvania, the owners have been able to offer health benefits to employees for the first time thanks to the money they receive from the skill games located in their grocery stores. They also provide daily free lunches to staff thanks to game revenue.
“Lawmakers need to understand what location owners do with their skill game revenue,” said Ryan Sprankle, an owner of one of the three Sprankle’s Neighborhood Markets. “The money has made a huge difference for our employees – we could not afford health insurance for them without it. They can stay healthier, and we are better able to keep good staff.”
Barley said Pennsylvania Skill hears stories like the Sprankles’ all the time. Many businesses and organizations count on this revenue. He wants to see legislation pass that would provide regulation of legal skill games as a way for the industry to continue to help locations and pay a steady stream of $250 million in tax revenue for the state each year. In addition to that, Pennsylvania Skill already pays tens of millions of dollars in taxes annually.
“A true skill game cannot set payout levels because the results are based on a player’s skill,” Barley explained. “After analyzing Pennsylvania Skill data, on average, 90 percent of players win. With that said, there are many illegal VGTs masquerading as skill games that are proliferating in the Commonwealth, and they do have set payout levels. That is why there is a clear need for regulation.”
Pennsylvania Skill games, which are manufactured in Williamsport, provide family-sustaining jobs in manufacturing and for small businesses that operate the games. The industry provides a needed financial lift for fraternal clubs and veterans’ groups, restaurants and bars.
The industry also provides charitable giving of over $1 million a year that supports Pennsylvania communities.