In October 2017, state legislators passed and Gov. Tom Wolf approved a massive expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania. The legislation authorized 10 new mini-casinos, gambling on the internet, fantasy sports betting and — of most relevance right now to Lancaster County — slot machine-like video gaming terminals at truck stops. Five such locations in the county have applied to offer video gaming terminals, according to LNP’s Junior Gonzalez. Three locations are Rutter’s convenience stores in West Hempfield Township, Leola and Strasburg. The other two are the Lancaster Travel Plaza in Ronks and the Conoco gas station in Gap.
We knew this was coming.
We know we can’t halt it.
But that doesn’t change the fact that we’re dismayed about it. This is not a merry moment for the many of us in Lancaster County who have long opposed gambling.
When last year’s Act 42 expanded gambling across Pennsylvania, the big headline was the mini-casinos and the accompanying opt-out process for municipalities. But lost in that furor was the approval of video gaming terminals at certain “truck stop establishments.” The law has a very specific definition of these establishments, including: They must have diesel islands to fuel commercial motor vehicles; they must sell an average of 50,000 gallons of diesel fuel per month; they must have at least 20 parking spaces dedicated to commercial motor vehicles; and they must have a convenience store. Qualifying establishments may have a maximum of five video gaming terminals.
There are truck stops in Lancaster County that qualify under that definition, and it appears that — despite public outcry — video gaming terminals are on the way.
The unfortunate genesis of this situation is that Pennsylvania in 2017 needed a quick and convenient solution for what it called a “one-time” $2 billion budget deficit. That gave us Act 42.
“There’s been a lot of pressure from a lot of places in the commonwealth to actually expand (gambling), and we do need some recurring revenue,” Wolf said last year. “The goal all along has been to do what’s prudent.”
Gambling has never been desirable, let alone prudent, in our view. As we maintained in October 2017: “We simply don’t believe the people of Lancaster County want it. ... Gambling has long been Pennsylvania’s default revenue generator. We’ve asked for a better way. We’ve asked for compromise and creativity. Instead, we got snake eyes.”
Lancaster County dodged the mini-casinos because municipal governments were given until Dec. 31, 2017, to pass resolutions prohibiting them. Every municipality in Lancaster County opted out. That says something about our county’s values.
However, as LNP’s Gonzalez reported, local governments cannot opt out of having video gaming terminals at truck stops.
That’s a shame. It’s a piece of Act 42 that should have gotten more scrutiny before passage. We believe our legislators should have allowed a mechanism for municipalities to opt out in the same way that they could with mini-casinos.
We are not alone in raising opposition to the proposed video gaming terminals.
“I’m absolutely concerned,” Strasburg Borough police Chief Steve Echternach told Gonzalez. “I think it’s a horrible idea. I don’t see the need at all in our community to have video gaming terminals.”
West Hempfield Township Board of Supervisors Chairman David Dumeyer added that his municipality doesn’t have many options to block the application for terminals at a Rutter’s there that has applied for them.
And East Lampeter Township Supervisor Ethan Demme said his township is reviewing the application submitted by the Lancaster Travel Plaza truck stop in Ronks. “I am opposed to bringing them into East Lampeter,” Demme said in an email to Gonzalez. “I don’t see any increased public benefit, social or economic.”
Nor do we.
We are also concerned that each state expansion of gambling — whether it be casinos, online gambling or video gaming terminals — potentially cuts into the funds that Pennsylvanians spend on the lottery, which benefits senior citizens. While Pennsylvania Lottery revenues were up in the 2017-18 fiscal year, lottery executive director Drew Svitko told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in August that he was worried about increased competition from other forms of gambling.
The battle over limited gambling and lottery dollars even led some Pennsylvania casinos to sue the Pennsylvania Lottery earlier this year over the lottery’s offering of casino-style online games. That’s action the casinos want for themselves.
We continue to believe that gambling in general is a terrible way to add to the state’s coffers.
As we noted in a January 2017 editorial, gambling “is a short-term solution that can yield problems in the long run. It amounts essentially to a regressive tax, exacting a higher cost on people with little money to spare.”
We found these alarming statistics in a December 2016 article in The Atlantic magazine: According to the industry-affiliated National Center for Responsible Gaming, approximately 3 to 4 million Americans have a gambling disorder. And an additional 5 to 8 million Americans meet “some of the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for addiction but have not yet progressed to the pathological, or disordered, stage.”
A Baylor University study found that gambling addiction carries hefty social costs, including loss of worker productivity, unemployment costs, bankruptcy and the costs of treating illnesses related to pathological gambling (anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disorders).
There must be a limit to Pennsylvania’s gambling madness.
It would have been nice if the buck could have stopped in Lancaster County. It did with the mini-casinos. But we weren’t given that option with truck-stop gambling.
All we ask is for a voice in the matter. A way to retain the unique values of who we are in Lancaster County.