Casino operator Las Vegas Sands has mounted a public relations campaign against a proposal to allow video gaming terminals (VGT) in Pennsylvania bars and clubs.
The Allentown Morning Call reported that Sands has allocated over $1m to fund an astroturf group it’s calling Pennsylvanians For Responsible Government (PFRG) to fight the proposed House Bill 1010, which would allow thousands of the state’s pubs, clubs and other small venues to add up to five VGTs apiece.
The Sands-sponsored group has launched a website at 12000pacasinos.com to educate Pennsylvanians of legislators’ plan ‘to put blackjack and poker machines in delis, restaurants, bars, pizza shops and social clubs. Even nursing homes!” The site comes with a handy interactive map to show just how close to residents’ “schools, churches and playgrounds” these new mini-casinos will be located.
In addition to the website, PFRG plans to launch radio and television commercials (viewable below) to ensure maximum awareness of HB1010, which PFRG claims will reduce not only real brick-and-mortar casino revenue but jeopardize the jobs of thousands of casino employees.
Pennsylvania is desperately trying to craft a new annual budget by the end of June, and there are multiple gaming expansion plans competing to make the final cut, including the ability of the state’s casino operators to launch online poker and casino sites, which Sands also opposes.
While Sands and the operators of Philadelphia’s Parx Casino are considered the lone holdouts against legal online gambling, most of the state’s 12 casino operators are vocally opposed to the proposed VGT rollout. Sands claims the state’s other casino operators will be joining the PFRG campaign, although so far none appear to have officially signaled their support.
The potential VGT competition is considered to have been a contributing factor in the recent demise of talks Sands was having regarding a $1.3b sale of its Sands Bethlehem casino to rival MGM Resorts. The controversial VGT issue was also largely responsible for the state’s inability to approve gambling expansion legislation last summer.
The VGT proposal has the strong support of the Pennsylvania Tavern Association, which claims the state could reap hundreds of millions of dollars in additional tax revenue. HB1010 contains a sweetener for casino operators, who would see their nation-high 54% slot machine tax reduced to 49%.
Rep. Mark Mustio, who sponsored HB 1010, told the Morning Call that the PFRG was “trying to create a boogieman” but he had his own scary monster under the bed. “If [Sands] can spend $1m for an ad campaign, maybe we should raise their taxes.”