On Wednesday, Pennsylvania House lawmakers took broad steps to expand gambling across the state, passing a bill that would bring casino-style gambling to airports and bars, regulate online gambling and fantasy sports, and bring video gaming terminals (VGT) into neighborhood establishments, something that at least two Philadelphia state representatives find troubling.
House Bill 271 includes authorizing up to 30,000 locations across the state for video gaming terminals at licensed liquor retailers and establishments by the end of 2018 and 40,000 by 2020, as well as gambling tablets at Pennsylvania’s six international airports, including Philadelphia.
State Representative Jason Dawkins (D-179 District) opposed the legislation, which passed 102-89, saying the expansion of gambling into his district will only exacerbate problems already entrenched. He made particular mention of the “stop and go” liquor stores that proliferate the city.
“It is a fact that 75 percent of gamblers have a drinking disorder, so when we talk about putting VGTs inside of stop and go’s, that is a concern for me,” Dawkins said. “I have heard members of this House say that it is not a problem. But when you live in a community such as mine that is downtrodden with poverty, downtrodden with addiction. We are talking about opioid abuse but here we are putting another vice inside of that community.
“Ask yourself do you have someone in your family who may be struggling with addiction and what it may do to that family,” Dawkins said. “We have yet to vet this bill thoroughly.”
State Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-201 District) said that there is no distribution formula for ensuring that Philadelphia neighborhoods are not saddled with the majority of the video terminals. He also said gambling expansion would hurt the Pennsylvania Lottery and the senior citizens programs associated with it.
“Communities in Philadelphia are sick and tired of being targeted by businesses from outside the commonwealth that come to our communities to deteriorate them,” Kinsey said.
Kinsey also said the legislation will damage the property tax relief seniors need to stay in their homes, pointing out that it slashes nearly “nearly $500 million over five years.”
The inclusion of the allowance for the VGT was not a part of the bill when it was passed in the Senate last month. It is believed that it could face opposition when the bill returns there for a vote.
Voting on the bill indicates just how divided legislators are over the issue. Twenty-four Democrats joined 78 Republicans in supporting the bill. Meanwhile, 38 Republicans joined 53 Democrats in opposition.