Two Centre County truck stops could be the future homes of video gaming terminals the state is rolling out as part of its large gambling expansion bill passed last year.
Snow Shoe Travel Plaza in Snow Shoe and TravelCenters of America (TA) in Milesburg both have applications pending to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to offer up to five video gaming terminals (VGTs) at their establishments.
VGTs are different from the satellite casinos for which the state added 10 licenses. Municipalities were able to opt out of allowing a satellite or “mini” casino and over 400 of them did, including 21 in Centre County. By not opting out, College Township paved the way for Nittany Gaming LLC to enter into a lease agreement for space to operate a mini casino in the Nittany Mall, but the state hasn’t freed up the five remaining licenses yet.
As far as gambling machines go, VGTs operate like slots machines and will only accept cash. The maximum bet for a single play is $5 with a maximum payout of $1,000.
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There are several qualifications an establishment must meet before being awarded conditional approval for a VGT license, said Doug Harbach, communications director for the state Gaming Control Board.
According to the Gaming Control Board’s website, the criteria are:
- is equipped with diesel islands used for fueling commercial motor vehicles;
- has sold on average 50,000 gallons of diesel or biodiesel fuel each month for the previous 12 months or is projected to sell an average of 50,000 gallons of diesel or biodiesel fuel each month for the next 12 months;
- has at least 20 parking spaces dedicated for commercial motor vehicles;
- has a convenience store;
- is a PA Lottery Sales Agent
- is situated on a parcel of land of not less than three acres.
Snow Shoe Travel plaza, according to the Gaming Control Board, has conditional approval for a license. The Milesburg TA’s application is currently “unauthorized,” meaning it hasn’t been processed yet.
“A conditional license is simply one that we’re granting because their application shows that they meet the qualifications to receive a license,” said Harbach. “However, we also will be going out and are doing inspections on the facilities to make sure that they meet the criteria before they’re granted a permanent license.”
The Gaming Control Board started accepting applications for VGTs on May 7. While there is “no finite number” of VGT licenses the state will award, Harbach said there were some estimates of “anywhere from 200-300 facilities that may adhere to the qualifications.”
Because the staff at the Gaming Control Board is busy with licensing and approval for sports books, casinos and Internet gaming, Harbach said, they don’t have a solid timeframe on when the first VGTs will launch.
“Our best guess right now is that we should be able to launch some of these VGT facilities by the middle of 2019,” he said.
Centre County Board of Commissioners Chair Michael Pipe said he felt that when it comes to VGTs, the state is responsibly expanding gambling.
“My take is, the way the state’s rolled this out has been a good approach, where they passed this legislation ... they’ve been thoughtful in how they’ve rolled it out,” he said. “It’s been more phased in ... and there was a rigorous application process.”
Once the VGTs launch, he said, he hopes the state is able to segregate the gaming area from the general convenience store area so “that if there’s young kids, they’re not just jumping on there and spending money.”
In terms of revenue generated by VGTs, Pipe said the money would probably go to the state. But in the case of the PA Lottery program, those funds are earmarked for senior programs and transportation initiatives.
“I’m not exactly sure ... if that money would trickle down to the county,” he said. “The more that it could go to the county, the better.”
Plans for a Rutter’s convenience store and gas station at the intersection of Benner Pike and Rishel Hill Road, submitted to Centre County on Dec. 6, fit some of the criteria needed for a VGT license — including dedicated parking and fueling for commercial motor vehicles, a convenience store and a land parcel over 3 acres. But there’s been no official word on what the company has planned for its possible Centre County location.