Pennsylvania Struggles with Unregulated Video Gambling

Even though Pennsylvania has consistently been praised for its handling of new gambling developments, there have been hiccups on the horizon ever since the latter half of the last decade. One of these potential problems was the introduction of video gaming terminals (VGTs) in August of 2019. The public was generally in favor of this move, but experts generally deemed VGTs as the proverbial hot potato, mostly due to the degree of difficulty when it came to regulation.

While the first few months of the VGT experiment went well for both the state, the current situation in Pennsylvania opened up a dangerous loophole some people predicted. Despite the mandatory shutdown, many liquor stores and restaurants have continued to offer VGTs to their customers while they wait for their orders in the drive-thru area.

Regulatory Conundrums

In terms of enforcing the law, casinos are some of the easiest venues you can monitor whenever there is a shutdown. Not only are they large and use enticing advertising tactics, but gambling venues tend to have one highly-secured entrance point for players. This enables inspectors and law enforcement officers to spot any laws or state-mandated orders being potentially disobeyed. While people are hesitant to engage in gaming activities at this time, casinos are willingly respecting the shutdown, too.

It makes sense, as the potential profit is diminutive compared to fines, re-application fees, and market share loss that the casino may have to experience. However, other hospitality establishments are a completely different story.

With liquor stores and some restaurants, you still have partial operation taking place. While lingering within the premises has been banned by the Governor, the economy is still breathing to a respirator thanks to establishments being allowed to conduct drive-thru, take out, and delivery services.

Even in regular times, hospitality businesses outnumber gambling venues, so it’s inherently hard to see if they’re breaking any laws. So far, the State Police inspected 12,800 venues, issuing 53 warnings, and taking away two liquor licenses. In most cases, the best source of evidence were complaints filed by citizens via phone or email.

The Governor has reiterated his stance of establishments offering VGTs, but experts fear that a total of 15,000 unlicensed, untaxed, and unregulated machines might be quite the challenge even for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), let alone the police all by themselves.

Casinos Against VGTs?

As far as the gaming industry is concerned, it’s no secret that casinos are somewhat ‘ideologically opposed’ to the idea of VGTs existing in Pennsylvania. Before they were allowed, casinos were the only physical locations where gaming enthusiasts could partake in land-based activities in whichever form they desired.

While the Quaker State was never the most difficult place to get a license in, the expenses of applying for a permit and modifying the premises to respect all the laws are indubitably burdening. With VGTs, establishments could both save money and increase traffic by giving their patrons something ‘to do’ while they’re dining or having a drink.

In Pennsylvania, in particular, Parx Casino and Racing and Pennsylvanians Against Illegal Gambling (PAIG) are the leading forces when it comes to urging authorities to better regulate VGTs. Since inspections are relatively rare, many venues offer these terminals illegally. In fact, even before VGTs were legalized, Pennsylvania had a big problem with illegal gambling operators.

Hopes were high once sports betting and online gaming became legal activities, but even these two niches weren’t enough to curb this clandestine menace. Nevertheless, the following 2-3 months will be a crucial period, if the PGCB and the state Government are to retain their already shaky reputation.

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