Pa. hurts small business for casinos

Other Voices

In the spring of this past year, the Pennsylvania House passed a bill allowing liquor license holders in the state of Pennsylvania the opportunity to install up to five video gaming terminals (VGTS) in their place of business.

Our lawmakers had the chance to gain substantial, recurring revenue for the commonwealth while helping struggling small businesses.

This could have afforded bars, taverns, fraternal clubs and bowling centers to add desperately needed revenue with VGTs, but instead this was terribly misconstrued into once again playing right into the hands of big casinos.

When the final bill was approved, instead of helping 3,000-plus small businesses, the only benefactor of the bill passed was the big casino industry.

Liquor-licensed locations were denied any benefit from the gaming expansion lawmakers ultimately passed at the end of October.

The commonwealth has instead allowed for small satellite casinos to open in every county, which will siphon the entertainment dollars away from these local, often family-owned businesses.

Not even three months later, it is clearly showing that this type of gaming expansion was a grave error.

Many state municipalities have already opted out of hosting a satellite casino. This means there is no way the commonwealth will recoup the $100 million annually lawmakers have budgeted for gaming revenue.

We must look at the reality of the situation. In 2016, Illinois brought in over $300 million for the state from its legalized VGTs. This is a significant opportunity for recurring revenue that we have turned our back on.

And let’s not overlook the reality that there are thousands of illegal VGTs currently in operation, with no money going back to the commonwealth or local communities.

The issue that stands before us today is not about gaming expansion. It’s about taking responsibility to legalize and regulate an industry that already exists — and to finally make it work for our governments and our business owners!

As a small business owner who is barely making ends meet, I am disheartened and disappointed that rather than standing up for small businesses, our legislators chose to favor billionaire casinos.

When our lawmakers said “no” to legalizing VGTs, they said “no” to giving Pennsylvania’s restaurant and tavern owners, veteran organizations and other liquor-licensed establishments a fighting chance to stay in business.

To my fellow small business owners and veteran and service organization clubs, who will undoubtedly be hurt by satellite casinos, continue to speak up.

It’s important to tell our lawmakers what it’s really like to be in the trenches, struggling to stay in business, and to only be further hurt by the commonwealth.

For far too long, casinos have controlled the rhetoric of gaming expansion in Pennsylvania. If we let them continue to win, everyone in Pennsylvania will lose.

Al Blough is president of the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of Pennsylvania.