Neilson: VGTs would harm Philadelphia and surrounding communities

HARRISBURG, June 22 – State Rep. Ed Neilson, D-Phila., today said he voted against an amendment that would have resulted in an explosion of gambling across the commonwealth because it would harm Philadelphia and further embolden nuisance bars throughout the city.

“I don’t have a problem with gaming,” said Neilson, who is the only Philadelphia member to sit on the House Gaming Oversight Committee. “I do take issue with any legislation that would allow 75,000 video gaming terminals to pop up across the state basically overnight.”

House Bill 2150 was originally introduced to regulate the fantasy sports industry in Pennsylvania and protect consumers using their services. However, an amendment, which Neilson opposed, was offered in the House that would have allowed the use of video gaming terminals at liquor establishments and truck stops. That amendment was unsuccessful.

“If the VGT legislation had been amended into this bill and it became law, obviously revenues from the casinos and the lottery would have been affected, which would have directly impacted the amount of funds available for property tax relief and senior programs like PACE. Even a 10 percent loss in casino revenues, which I think is a modest estimate, would have led to serious funding issues and the inevitable loss of casino jobs,” Neilson said. “We have seen that trend in every state that has allowed these machines to take root in their communities. But my largest concern has been and continues to be about the unintended consequences these machines could have on our communities and children.”

Neilson said he had particular concern about the proliferation of VGTs at the already-problematic nuisance bars found throughout Philadelphia.

“My hesitation with this amendment was not about the bar owner. It was not about the gambler who might use the machines. My concerns were firmly based off the massive impact this expansion would have had on our communities,” Neilson said. “Philadelphia already has enough of an issue to deal with as far as nuisance bars are concerned and this bill would have only served to exacerbate that problem. The enforcement agents we currently have would never have been able to ensure that all these new gambling parlors are following what few regulations this bill would have established.”  

After the VGT amendment was defeated, Neilson supported a second amendment to the bill that would authorize iGaming and slot machines at international airports, among other forms of gaming expansion, but did not include VGTs. That proposal was successfully amended into the bill.

“I am glad the House was able to come together and find a compromise that works for every part of this state,” Neilson said. “I believe this bill, as it exists now, will be a crucial part of closing our budget deficit without increasing the tax burden on working Pennsylvanians. Once it has passed the House, I call on my colleagues in the Senate to take it up without delay.”