Video Game Terminals (“VGT’s”) are a Bad Bet for Pennsylvania.

An Op-Ed by State Senator Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks) 

I believe my good friends and colleagues who are supporting video gaming terminals (VGTs) in the State Legislature are mistaken, and I see numerous reasons to oppose VGT legislation.   Just a few of the many reasons are: VGTs will not raise anywhere near the amount of money that their proponents claim they will; VGT legislation will cause an increase in property taxes; VGTs will hurt seniors; and VGTs are bad social policy. 

Proponents of VGT’s claim they will generate from $300 to $400 million dollars a year for Pennsylvania.  That’s not the case.  The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue testified to the House Gaming Oversight Committee that VGT’s would only result in a small net increase to the state of $47 million dollars.  To be clear, a net gain of only $47 million dollars, NOT $300 to $400 million.

You may be asking yourself, why is there such a drastic difference between the Department of Revenue’s number and the VGT proponent’s number?  The answer is simple.  Other state revenue sources that will be cannibalized if VGT’s are legalized are not included in the $300 to $400 million projection.

For example, VGT’s will hurt the State Gaming Fund, which is used to offset your property taxes. The Department of Revenue projects a decrease in the State Gaming Fund by more than $200 million next year if VGT’s are legalized.  If $200 million is eliminated from that fund, you, the property owner, will have to make up the difference.  Practically speaking, the VGT proposal is nothing more than a back-door property tax increase taking money out of your pocket and putting it into the pockets of large Nevada and Illinois based VGT operators.

Another fund impacted is the State Lottery Fund.  If VGT’s are legalized the Department of Revenue projects a decrease in lottery sales between $923 million and $2.3 billion over the next ten years.  That means between $923 million and $2.3 billion less to programs that support seniors such as PACE/PACENET, Shared/Free Rides, Property Tax/Rent Rebates, Long-Term Living Services and more.  So it should come as no surprise that the Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging opposes VGT’s.

Another major issue with VGT’s is their social impact.  When you put slot machines in over 15,000 bars and taverns in the state, problems are sure to arise.  Social problems like underage gambling and increased gambling are real issues. Don’t take my word for it, just look at South Carolina. South Carolina had legalized VGT’s.  It ultimately got to the point where almost every bar, tavern, or restaurant in the state had VGT’s and people were fed up.  Because of the negative social aspects of VGT’s, banning them was one of the driving issues of the 1998 South Carolina Gubernatorial Election.  Not surprisingly, the anti-VGT candidate won and VGT’s were banned in the state.  Knowing that history, it should come as no surprise that polling on the issue in Pennsylvania shows two-thirds of our population is against VGT’s.  

Overall, VGT’s are a bad bet for Pennsylvania.  They won’t generate the money they claim to generate, they’ll hurt property taxpayers, they’ll hurt seniors, and they will hurt the Commonwealth. Call your legislator and ask them to oppose VGT’s. 

Sincerely,

Robert “Tommy’ Tomlinson, State Senator 6th District   — 215-638-1784