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Truck stop gaming ramps up, but will they hit jackpot?

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It may be quite some time before drivers can pull into their favorite Pennsylvania truck stop and gamble, but the state has begun its first steps toward bringing video gaming terminals to qualifying truck stops within its borders.

At the same time, some are questioning the impact the new gambling option will have in the state, or even how much interest there may be from truck stops.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board late last month placed on its website information and the first applications for qualified truck-stop operators that wish to operate video gaming terminals. 

“This really is just the first step. We are continuing to work on regulations and guidelines,” said Doug Harbach, spokesman for the board.

The applications are being made available after a law was passed and signed by Gov. Tom Wolf in November allowing for the expansion of gambling in the state, which included the allowance for up to five video gaming terminals in certain truck stops.

The applications and guidelines are now available, however the control board will not begin accepting applications until May 7.

HOW LONG?

At that point, Harbach said, officials will review the applications to make sure they are complete and to see if they qualify.

He noted that there are quite often deficiencies in applications and the process can take some time.

“It’s hard to say when it will happen. We will do our due diligence,” he said. “It depends a lot on who applies and the scope of the applications.”

WHERE AND WHERE NOT?

One thing for certain is there won’t be any truck stop gaming terminals in Northampton, Monroe, Bucks, Montgomery and six other counties in the state: Delaware, Dauphin, Erie, Luzerne, Philadelphia and Washington.

“Counties that already host a casino were given the option to opt out,” Harbach said. “Ten out of 12 did.”

Only Allegheny and Fayette counties agreed to host both casinos and truck stop gaming.

ELSEWHERE

Pennsylvania is far from the first state to allow this sort of gambling expansion. Illinois was one of the leaders in video gaming terminals and has more than 28,000 of the terminals in more than 6,000 locations around the state.

That includes locations besides truck stops, including bars, restaurants and social clubs.

All totaled, the terminals generated $296 million in state gambling tax revenue in fiscal 2017.

Pennsylvania’s tax revenue would likely be significantly less because of the limitations of where and how many gaming terminals could be employed, said Richard Teitelbaum, president of the Pennsylvania Video Gaming Association and a Delaware County-based vending company owner.

MISSING POTENTIAL?

“As an organization we were fighting for a more widespread approval like in Illinois with bars, clubs and truck stops,” Teitelbaum said. “As it stands, it really limits the revenue that the state of Pennsylvania could benefit from.”

Teitelbaum said his association estimates about 120 truck stops in the state would qualify for the terminals.

But with a limit of five terminals per truck stop and a cap of 15 percent on revenue that goes to the business – he said other states are double that with Illinois at 35 percent – the hassle and paperwork of adding the gaming terminals might not be worth it.

“I’ve talked to some truck stop operators that might not even bother,” he said.

So he expects the number of gaming locations – and revenue – might be even less than the state expects.

EXPECTATIONS WERE NOT HIGH

But, according to a spokesman from the office of state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Bethlehem, the truck stop gaming terminals were part of the negotiations of the overall gaming expansion bill and were never the main source of tax revenue the state is expecting.

The bigger money is coming from licensing fees for businesses wanting to open 10 smaller, “satellite” casinos in the state.

According to Boscola’s office, about $90 million were raised just for the auction of the first two satellite casino licenses that have been put on the block so far.

LOCAL IMPACT

Boscola’s office noted the impact of truck stop gambling won’t be very significant in the Greater Lehigh Valley.

In Lehigh County, for example, only one truck stop, in Trexlertown, would even qualify for gaming terminals.

More of an impact will be felt in the central and western parts of the state.

Harbach said there is no limit to how many truck stops can operate the terminals, but there is a limit to how many could qualify. He would not speculate on how many he expects to apply.

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