Pennsylvania: Rev. Sandra Strauss: Lawmakers should clamp down on illegal gambling

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There is no question that Pennsylvania is under siege from an out-of-control explosion of illegal gambling that is occurring in gas stations, convenience stores, corner stores and pizza parlors where teens gather.   Currently, there are at least 15,000 so-called “skilled games” machines in operation in communities across the state. Despite the catchy name, these are nothing more than slot machines, and they are hurting children, seniors and our communities.   These devices accept $100 bills and advertise payouts in excess of $1,000. There are virtually zero safeguards to stop minors from using these machines. Pennsylvania State Police officials have flatly stated that “illegal gambling is not a victimless crime,” and we are seeing evidence of that daily.

There is no question that Pennsylvania is under siege from an out-of-control explosion of illegal gambling that is occurring in gas stations, convenience stores, corner stores and pizza parlors where teens gather.

Currently, there are at least 15,000 so-called “skilled games” machines in operation in communities across the state. Despite the catchy name, these are nothing more than slot machines, and they are hurting children, seniors and our communities.

These devices accept $100 bills and advertise payouts in excess of $1,000. There are virtually zero safeguards to stop minors from using these machines. Pennsylvania State Police officials have flatly stated that “illegal gambling is not a victimless crime,” and we are seeing evidence of that daily.

In testimony offered to the House Gaming Oversight Committee, a PSP officer said that “many people believe that gambling is a victimless crime. The PSP routinely receives complaints from families who are victimized by family members who lose all their money in these illegal gambling devices, due to gambling addictions or impaired judgment.”

Pennsylvania Lottery officials have stated publicly that these machines have drained $200 million in revenue that funds life-saving programs for older Pennsylvanians.

Our organization opposed the introduction of slot machines and casinos in our state years ago, and we remain opposed to the spread of gambling. Some who patronize gambling facilities and machines include our most vulnerable neighbors who can least afford the losses they inevitably incur. We said back in 2004 that the trade-off of tax revenue for the impacts on our citizens is just not worth it — and our position has not changed.

We were also very disappointed that, in 2017, lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf enacted legislation that dramatically increased legal gambling in Pennsylvania. No state has ever approved so many more opportunities for its citizens to gamble at a single time.

Our commonwealth is awash in gambling, but we recognize that we cannot turn back the clock. Legal gambling is here to stay, for better or worse, but we still believe it was a mistake to open this door in the first place.

Pennsylvanians and lawmakers should not turn a blind eye to the proliferation of these slot machines in our neighborhoods. Simply because we have regulated casinos, racetracks and lottery games does not mean we should continue to add more and more legal ways to gamble.

Enough is enough. It’s time lawmakers enact legislation to ban these machines. State police and local authorities should take every step possible to remove these machines from our communities. Lawmakers need to reject any more proposals to expand gaming in our state — in casinos, bars and taverns or anywhere else.

Wolf is right when he says that these machines hurt senior programs, and are unregulated and illegal. We would assert that the hurt extends beyond seniors — it hurts vulnerable individuals and families financially and creates havoc and instability in our communities as a result. Lawmakers and the governor need to stop turning to more and more legal gambling for revenue.

They need to ask themselves whether or not they truly believe that their legacy should be that they turned Pennsylvania into the Nevada of the east.

Enough is enough. We are the Keystone State — not the gambling state.

https://triblive.com/opinion/rev-sandra-strauss-lawmakers-should-clamp-down-on-illegal-gambling/