A state Senate bill that would allow municipalities in third-class counties such as Lancaster, York and Chester to opt out of a 2017 law expanding video gambling machines at truck stops has cleared a major hurdle, LNP’s Junior Gonzalez reported on May 10. The bill, sponsored by state senators Scott Martin, R-Martic Township, and Ryan Aument, R-Mount Joy, was voted out of committee on May 8. “(Martin) 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,” Gonzalez reported.
We applaud this effort by Martin and Aument, and hope this legislation can swiftly become law.
Strasburg Mayor Bruce Ryder told Gonzalez, “Woohoo!”
We second that emotion.
Some background: In October 2017, state legislators passed and Gov. Tom Wolf approved a massive expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania. It authorized 10 new mini-casinos, gambling on the internet, fantasy sports betting and — of most relevance to us — slot machine-like video gaming terminals at certain truck stops.
That law, Act 42, allowed municipalities to opt out of hosting mini-casinos but — to the frustration of some public officials — did not provide an opt-out for gambling machines at truck stops.
Five applications from Lancaster County businesses seeking the machines have received conditional approval from the state Gaming Control Board. They include 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 the machines.
West Hempfield Township and Strasburg Borough, Gonzalez notes, “have been embroiled in lawsuits with Rutter’s” over the potential installations.
At this point, however, it doesn’t appear those municipalities have much ground to stand on in court.
But Martin’s and Aument’s proposed legislation, if it becomes law, would change that.
“It isn’t the way this should be,” Martin told Gonzalez, referring to the current law. “I think that decision should be left up to municipalities.”
Having a choice is all that we — and the municipalities — want.
But the choice wasn’t built into Act 42, which deserved more scrutiny and discussion before it was passed. It was a big, rushed piece of legislation to fix what the state called a “one-time” $2 billion budget deficit. Most of the headlines went to the mini-casinos and internet gambling. Thus, the specifics of the video gaming terminals at truck stops slipped through the cracks. There wasn’t time to raise a fuss.
We remain firmly against gambling. It’s not part of Lancaster County’s fabric. We love this area for its beauty, individuality, family-friendliness and pace of life.
Furthermore, gambling is a poor remedy for managing the state’s financial affairs. As we wrote last month, “Our elected officials in Harrisburg are mired in a vicious cycle of approving ever-more gambling as they become addicted to the tax revenue to fix budget problems.”
Some local municipalities have been firm about their distaste for hosting gambling machines.
“It would not have a positive impact to the quality of life of the residents in the greater Strasburg area,” Strasburg Borough police Chief Steve Echternach said in December.
And having to fight court battles is also costing our municipalities time that could be spent on other issues — not to mention taxpayer money.
“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,” Strasburg’s Ryder said.
Writing about this topic in December, we concluded: “All we ask is for a voice in the matter. A way to retain the unique values of who we are in Lancaster County.”
Martin’s and Aument’s legislation would give us that voice.