If one group gets its way, it soon might be legal to collect video poker payouts at bars, clubs or even truck stops.
The Pennsylvania Video Gaming Association formed last year to lobby for legalization, taxation and regulation of what it describes as an "already-present illegal industry.
Video poker machines are illegal in Pennsylvania and other states if they give payouts.
In 2015, two Nazareth-area social clubs were under scrutiny for allegedly partaking in such activities. But state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh/Northampton, says the industry has existed for years and isn't going to go away -- so it's best to legalize it and spread the revenue benefits.
Andy Goodman, government relations spokesman for the video gaming association, said the group was formed Dec. 1 and is putting together legislation to be considered by lawmakers before a new budget is set for approval at the end of June.
Goodman is hopeful for approval. He said the legislation is modeled off an Illinois law that he says brought the state more than $300 million in revenue from video poker machines in 2016. In addition, Goodman said, legalizing small games of chance brought Illinois hundreds of jobs.
"In addition to jobs, legalizing this type of gaming revitalized many bars and clubs, especially veterans clubs," he said.
Legalizing small games of chance has been a Pennsylvania issue since the 1980s, Goodman said. Similar legislation was brought before Gov. Bob Casey in the 1990s and was denied.
The video gaming association is prepared for push-back from casinos that might consider legalization a threat, Goodman said. Many casinos have claimed it would cut into their business.
Boscola disagrees. She said video poker in clubs and bars serve an entirely different clientele than casino-goers. She said the two could work side by side successfully.
Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem spokeswoman Julia Corwin did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the matter.
Goodman believes the time is ripe for legalization as many Pennsylvania politicians are pushing for tax relief. Video poker revenue could help fill the state's budget gaps, he said.
Depending on the specifics of the legislation, Boscola said she would consider supporting such a bill. For example, she said, if the bill also legalizes online gaming, she would vote against it because of the addiction online gambling can cultivate.
"Video poker is happening at a lot of bars right now. State police estimate there are 40,000 machines that exist but are illegal," she said. "Moving forward, it is important to legitimize something that is already happening. By taxing and licensing, more people would benefit."
Boscola said a woman once told her that her husband spent his entire paycheck on video poker, but help was unavailable because the practice is illegal. Legalizing such activity would also allow for addicted individuals to receive help, she said.
Boscola worked to amend a law that now allows games of chance -- games that she said are "fun, spirited and harmless."
The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett, allowed betting in nonprofit organizations if the entry was $20 or less, had less than 100 participants and the pooled profits were awarded to contestants or a charity.
But in 2011, authorities who raided Nazareth-area social halls also confiscated Super Bowl pools, even though the state law allows them.
"Ultimately, it's time to apply common sense to gaming," Boscola said. "And let's put that common sense, harmless fun into law."