A legislative study out of Pennsylvania suggests that some of the rules governing the state's casinos ought to be broken, or at least softened. Pennsylvania's Legislative Budget and Finance Committee speculated that, in order to boost business and stay competitive, the laundry list of casino regulations established back in 2004 could be toned down a bit.
About Pennsylvania Gambling
Casino gaming was not legal in Pennsylvania until 2004. The state currently offers patrons both racetrack facilities and stand-alone casinos. Twelve gambling halls grace the landscape as of right now, including the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Harrah's Casino/Racetrack near Philadelphia, and the Hollywood Casino in Grantville. All businesses are overseen by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
Table games weren't legal in Pennsylvania's casinos until 2010. At that time, the state experienced a gambling boom and a surge in profits that has continued to serve its coffers well over the past four years. According to Commissioner John McNally of the Gaming Control Board, about $12 million gets pumped into the Hollywood's slot machines on any given weekend. McNally claims that his state's gambling revenue is second only to that of Nevada. Two more halls are slated to be built in the coming years, the commissioner said.
About the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board
Pennsylvania's Gaming Control Board keeps a close watch over the state's casinos and racetracks, but it is not authorized to oversee the state's lottery activities. The board's detailed website includes a map of all 12 facilities and a detailed exclusion list of offenders who are not permitted to enter the halls. The board is authorized to issue up to 14 licenses; 2 are now pending.
Recommendations for Easing the Rules
McNally told reporters that in-state gamers once traveled to Atlantic City to get their fix, but nowadays they're getting all they need within the boundaries of Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee has made some recommendations for changes in Pennsylvania gaming regulations that would improve business even more. Whether these changes will actually be adopted is anyone's guess; the study was just released this month and no official response from authorities has been recorded.
The proposed changes include the following:
Permit alcohol sales after two in the morning
As of right now, alcoholic beverages may not be purchased after 2 AM. If this restriction were lifted, more people might feel inclined to stay and spend their money all night long. The restriction doesn't exist in some competing states.
Speed up the legal process of approving new games
Every new slot machine and game must be approved by the Gaming Control Board. If approval times were shortened, the state's casinos would be able to provide a more exciting whirlwind of gaming experiences for customers.
Improve players' access to spending cash
This could be done by allowing cash advances on credit cards and permitting customers to cash personal checks over $2,500 on site.
Reduce police presence on site
The state now mandates that a certain number of officers occupy the premises. Casinos pay these officers out of their budget. If this number were reduced, casinos would save money.
Allow casinos more control over staffing
If gambling facilities were allowed to circumvent some regulations and cut some staff, money would be saved.
Make life easier for on-site vendors of non-gambling services and products
If these vendors enjoyed more relaxed certification and licensing requirements, perhaps more non-gambling vendors would be inspired to set up shop at casinos.
A National Role Model
Pennsylvania takes an "analytical approach" to how and where they place their gambling halls, according to hotel and leisure consultant Paul Girvan. Girvan's company was commissioned by the Senate to help analyze and plan this approach. Variables the company considered when planning Pennsylvania's casino landscape included demographic data and regional spending habits. Because of the wild success that resulted from this careful planning, the entire U.S. looks to Pennsylvania as a role model in casino industry development.
Gaming analyst Robert LaFleur sings the praises of Girvan's analytical approach, saying the state has "effectively used a combination of density, wealth, and geography" to plan for its success. In 2012, Pennsylvania brought in the highest casino tax revenue of any region in the U.S. The state took advantage of the highest permissible tax rate it could at the time: A whopping 55 percent.
Since Pennsylvania's success story began, Girvan has been hired by other states to analyze and plan for their blossoming casino industries. The consultant's credentials are impressive: Since his early training as a demographer in Britain, he has continued to immerse himself in the study of the leisure industry in all of America's major hospitality markets. Girvan received an Associate's degree in Economics, a Bachelor of Science degree in the dual studies of geology and geography, and a Master's degree in Urban and Regional Planning.
Online Gaming: Not a Reality Yet
Some speculate that legalized online gaming will be the next big venture in Pennsylvania's gambling industry. Analysts estimate that $307 million in revenue could be raised if the activity were legalized. The urgency to stimulate profits is definitely an issue, as recent revenue figures dipped slightly. One possible explanation for this: Neighboring states have legalized gambling where it once was illegal. It's possible that Pennsylvania's good-fortune trend will fizzle out if government doesn't do something to rekindle the public's love affair with its state-sponsored gaming.
House Bill 1235 would legalize and regulate online gaming in the state, including poker. Politicians are currently wrestling with the issue of whether or not to approve the bill. If they do, Pennsylvania is likely to maintain its footing as one of the most successful gambling territories in the U.S. If not, the state will have to find other ways to promote its gaming industry.