A state Senate bill allowing municipalities in Lancaster County to opt out of a law expanding video gambling machines at truck stops has cleared a major hurdle toward a floor vote.
The bill, sponsored by state senators Scott Martin, R-Martic Township, and Ryan Aument, R-Mount Joy, would allow municipalities in third-class counties such as York, Chester and Lancaster Counties to prohibit video gaming terminals through a resolution. The bill was voted out of committee Wednesday.
The video gaming terminals, which operate like digital slots, were legalized for select truck stop establishments as part of a sweeping law signed by Gov. Tom Wolf in late 2017 allowing expanded gambling.
The law, Act 42, also allowed the creation of 10 mini-casinos, legalized internet gambling and fantasy sports betting.
Several Lancaster County public officials have expressed frustration that law does not provide municipalities the opportunity to opt-out of the machines, unlike the option of housing mini-casinos.
Within two months of the law’s enactment in late October, all 60 Lancaster County municipalities opted out of that requirement.
In recent months, West Hempfield Township and Strasburg Borough have been embroiled lawsuits with Rutter’s, which has sought approval to install the machines at its convenience stores.
Five applications in Lancaster County seeking machines have received conditional approval from the state Gaming Control Board, including Rutter’s stores in West Hempfield Township, Strasburg Borough and Leola. A Conoco gas station in Gap and the Lancaster Travel Plaza in Ronks are also seeking installation of the machines.
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Martin said he frequently heard concerns from area residents about the machines and from officials concerned about lawsuits.
“It isn’t the way this should be,” Martin said, referring to the current law. “I think that decision should be left up to municipalities.”
He said there seems to be strong bipartisan support for the bill and anticipates a Senate vote in the first week of June with a presumed vote in the state House not long after.
Strasburg Mayor Bruce Ryder had a simple reaction to the latest development toward a vote: “Woohoo!”
He said the back-and-forth with Rutter’s over the machines has used up a lot of the borough’s time and attention over the past five months.
“We’ve spent a lot of money that we do not have in our budget in order to defend our position that we believe our citizens want,” he said.
“This new Senate bill is an encouragement,” he said, thanking Martin and Aument for their legislative efforts.