July 13, 2017

Op-Ed: Deceitful Mailer Aims To Mislead Public About Video Gaming Terminals

By Rep. Scott Petri, Majority Chair of the House Gaming Oversight Committee

I am writing in response to false and misleading information provided to my constituents by the Commonwealth Foundation, an extreme special interest think tank in Harrisburg.
In a political-style mailer, the Commonwealth Foundation urged constituents to contact me about what it terms “corporate welfare” for horse racing owners and breeders.
The Commonwealth Foundation is aware that the Race Horse Development Fund is supported by assessments against the casino industry and does not receive taxpayer dollars.  
Yet, it implied that your state tax dollars are being used to support the horse racing industry. This is not true and the Commonwealth Foundation should retract this statement and apologize for attempting to mislead the public.         
We may never know who paid for this political-style attack, unless the Commonwealth Foundation discloses it, but it was clearly a special interest with a strong financial stake in the proliferation of video gaming terminals (VGTs) throughout Pennsylvania.
Currently, there is a heated battle over the legalization of VGTs in Pennsylvania, which would allow more than 14,000 new, mini-casinos in bars, restaurants, taverns, social clubs, truck stops and similar establishments.
Those who favor VGTS are primarily owners and operators of casinos and gaming facilities in other states.             
Obviously, bars and taverns would like the opportunity to make more money, but the legislation to allow VGTs was written to benefit casino-style operators and would offer these small businesses only a tiny share of the net proceeds from the machines.
Even the state would receive a smaller percentage from VGTs than it receives from existing casinos, and because VGTs would compete against and take revenue away from casinos, the state would receive even less.
I opposed recent legislation that would have allowed VGTs and weakened Pennsylvania’s horse racing and casino industries, which have a strong impact on job creation and farmland preservation in Pennsylvania.  
In Bucks County, our local casino and racetrack provide nearly 1,400 year-round jobs -- many in the care and maintenance of horses.
Horse farms here and across the Commonwealth have been preserved and expanded with racing proceeds paid into the Race Horse Development Fund by casinos intent on enhancing the purses at race tracks.
Higher purses attract more horse owners and higher quality horses.
As chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, I am concerned that Pennsylvania farms and the horse racing industry would suffer if the Legislature moves proceeds from the Race Horse Development Fund to cover yet another state budget shortfall.
Testimony before this committee clearly shows that this funding has a direct impact on the quality of horse racing and the success of our farmland preservation program.
A reduction in the Race Horse Development Fund would likely cause an industry that employs approximately 23,000 people statewide to leave Pennsylvania.
The Commonwealth Foundation should be embarrassed by its attempt to fool my constituents, and ashamed of the misinformation it spread to do so.
While we can all have differences of opinion on the topic, I think it is important to set forth facts and not purposely attempt to mislead people.

Rep. Scott Petri (R-Bucks) serves as Majority Chair of the House Gaming Oversight Committee.