Penn National Gaming Opposes Further Gaming Expansion in Keystone State, Provides York Casino Update

Posted on: June 24, 2020, 03:06h. 

Last updated on: June 25, 2020, 09:08h.

Penn National Gaming has publicly expressed its opposition to efforts in the Pennsylvania Capitol to further expand gambling in the state.

Penn National Gaming Pennsylvania casinos
Penn National’s Hollywood Casino only reopened last week, and the company is urging Pennsylvania lawmakers to fold on considering new gaming expansion measures. (Image: Mike Pynes/PennLive)

Tax revenue from gambling has plummeted in 2020, as all 12 brick-and-mortar Pennsylvania casinos were closed for nearly three months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That has prompted some state lawmakers to consider whether slot-like video gaming terminals (VGTs) should be permitted elsewhere other than certain diesel truck stops. There’s also an effort to legalize and regulate controversial skill gaming terminals that closely mimic slot machines.

We are firmly against any further gaming expansion in Pennsylvania,” Eric Schippers, senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for Penn National Gaming, told today.

Schippers points out that the five Category 4 satellite casinos authorized in the state’s massive expansion of gambling in 2017 – a bill Penn National Gaming initially opposed – are still being built. Paired with the existing full-scale casinos only now beginning to reopen, and the gaming executive says lawmakers should “look somewhere other than continued gaming expansion for budget solutions.”

“The Legislature is once again rushing to consider a bill that will severely cannibalize existing operators and the jobs they support. Pennsylvania is beyond the point of saturation from a gaming perspective,” Schippers declared.

Satellite Progress

Penn National Gaming (PNG) sued Pennsylvania in 2018. The company’s lawsuit contended that satellite casinos would cause “significant and unique” harm to the company’s Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Grantville.

Under the 2017 law, a competing satellite casino cannot be built within a 25-mile radius of an existing casino. PNG argued that the stipulation unfairly provided casinos in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with a larger buffer zone than Hollywood, which is in a more rural location. “We don’t have any of the protection of the overlapping casinos,” Schippers said at the time.

PNG ultimately withdrew the lawsuit and ended up winning the first Category 4 satellite auction with a $50.1 million bid. It selected York County, the company saying it “was an investment we felt like we had to make to protect a major market area for our casino [at Penn National].”

Hollywood Casino York gained formal approval in December, and construction began soon after on the $120 million project (inclusive of the $50.1 million bid) to transform the vacant Sears department store at the York Galleria Mall into a casino venue. But construction was halted in March on Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) orders, part of the state’s effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Schippers tells that construction remains on hold, and there’s no firm date for its resumption.

Skill Game Free-for-All? 

In addition to considering allowing VGTs to be placed in bars, restaurants, social clubs, and other businesses holding a liquor license, state lawmakers are mulling a decision to regulate skill gaming machines.

The devices have infiltrated watering holes across the Commonwealth, and act nearly identical to slot machines – the primary difference being the player must identify a winning payline, while a regulated slot automatically does that for the gambler. Pennsylvania casinos want the skill machines deemed illegal. They currently aren’t taxed nor regulated.

Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), one of the lawmakers considering further gaming expansion, said yesterday, “They’re completely unregulated and completely unsupervised. We’re trying to bring in gaming to the light of day that’s going on unregulated.”