Peter Shelly

Peter Shelly

The LNP | LancasterOnline Editorial Board has consistently argued against the proliferation of gaming in our state, which is absolutely its right. 

Reasonable minds can differ on any public policy issue. What makes no sense, however, is the LNP | LancasterOnline Editorial Board’s decision to effectively turn a blind eye to an explosion of illegal gambling across the state.

A handful of operators are rolling out slot machines in gas stations, corner stores, pizza parlors, laundromats, storefronts, bars and taverns among many other locations in communities across the state.

In its Dec. 19 editorial (“It’s all gambling”), the editorial board concedes that the “spread of ‘games of skill’ machines throughout Lancaster County and the state is problematic and unfortunate.” It certainly is, but it is much more than that. It is harmful and illegal.

The editorial board failed to update its own reporting from June when it stated that “games of skill” are not slot machines. In fact, this past November, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that these machines are slot machines under the definition of that term used by the Legislature in the Gaming Act.

The court also found that illegal slot machines are governed by Pennsylvania criminal law, which expressly makes it illegal in Pennsylvania for a person to make, assemble, sell, lease or maintain a “slot machine.”

This is a key distinction because, as your newspaper reported, the Pennsylvania State Police in December seized illegal slot machines from restaurants in Cumberland and Dauphin counties.

The editorial board’s suggestion that “gambling is gambling,” illegal or otherwise, would be akin to suggesting that news is news — fake or otherwise. It isn’t.

Illegal slot machines victimize young people and their families. They are easily accessible to young people. The Pennsylvania State Police has called their operation “ripe for corruption.”

These machines have pulled close to $200 million from the Pennsylvania Lottery, which funds senior centers, low-cost prescription drugs for seniors, and programs that allow seniors to stay in their homes.

State lottery officials have testified that these machines are constructed to look like lottery machines and are often placed right next to lottery machines, causing confusion and threatening the future loss of hundreds of millions for those vital programs for older Pennsylvanians.

Illegal slot machines also divert revenues from casinos that help fund property tax relief and community programs and projects across the state. Every casino has responsible gaming safeguards in place to protect the public, such as a self-exclusion list available to compulsive and problem gamblers.

No corner gas station in this state has these measures in place. Every casino has precautions and restrictions in place to prevent underage gambling. Yet you can easily find these illegal slot machines right next to the candy bar rack at any number of convenience stores and gas stations across the state.

And we make no bones about it: Illegal gambling also threatens our state’s legal casinos, which have made significant investments in our state that continue to pay dividends for all taxpayers. The state’s casinos provide approximately 19,000 jobs and have provided more than $12 billion in gaming tax revenues to the Pennsylvania Treasury since 2006.

But these casinos are heavily regulated, closely scrutinized and stringently limited in terms of their number and their locations. They are not in every neighborhood across Pennsylvania. The state police estimates that there are more than 10,000 slot machines currently in operation across the state from one manufacturer alone, and that there are at least five to six different manufacturers operating in the state now.

One operator has said publicly that their business has 15,000 machines in Pennsylvania. By comparison, there are approximately 24,000 legal slot machines in licensed casinos.

I’d urge the LNP | LancasterOnline Editorial Board to visit one of the convenience stores, pizza parlors, gas stations, shopping malls or corner stores across this region to see the impacts of these machines. Illegal gambling is not a victimless crime.

If you have concerns about widespread gambling, then restrict it — don’t expand it onto every street corner.

Peter J. Shelly, of Shelly Lyons Public Affairs & Communications in Harrisburg, is a spokesperson for Pennsylvanians Against Illegal Gambling, a new statewide organization supported by the casino industry advocating the prohibition of unlicensed, unregulated gambling in the commonwealth.