Five Years of Casino Gaming in PA

The slot machines first started chiming, whizzing and whirling at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on November 14th, 2006.  Back then it was Pennsylvania’s first slots casino.  Today Mohegan Sun is one of ten casinos operating in the Keystone State, which are all offering a full complement of table games too. 

Casinos, Cards

PA casinos started rolling out table games in July 2010.

The first five years of casino gambling have been an economic success, according to state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks).  “Many of my detractors said you’ll never raise a billion dollars out of this, but we’ve gone over $4-billion dollars in tax revenues to the state,” Tomlinson says.  Slot machines have actually raked in $4.6-billion dollars in tax revenue through last fiscal year, and table games added another $81.4-million dollars in tax revenue during their first year. 

Regardless of the statistics, state Rep. Curt Schroder (R-Chester) tells us casino gambling has failed to deliver on its promise of property tax relief.  “Maybe a couple hundred dollars in some places, in some parts of the state much less than that,” says Schroder, who chairs the House Gaming Oversight Committee.  “When you’re talking property tax bills of three, four, five thousand dollar and above in some areas, it doesn’t make a dent.” 

Last year, Pennsylvania homeowners shared in $776-million dollars of slots-funded property tax relief, which broke down to a statewide average of $200 bucks.  The amount varies by school district, though, and Sen. Tomlinson tells us poorer areas and senior citizens are especially benefitting.      

PA casinos employ 15,000 people, but there are concerns about potentially thousands of families being negatively impacted.  Five years ago, the Council on Compulsive Gambling in Pennsylvania averaged around 300 calls per month to its helpline.  “Since the first casino opened in November of 2006, our monthly helpline activity has increased,” says Council on Compulsive Gambling President Jim Pappas.  “We now average over 1,800 calls a month from within the state.”  3,025 people have also signed up for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s self-exclusion list.

Several more casinos could potentially come online in 2012, but the Gaming Board’s focus is shifting.  “It really is coming to the point where we’re becoming more of a regulator than an opening-type agency,” says PGCB spokesman Richard McGarvey.  While the gaming competition from surrounding states will be intense in the next five years, McGarvey says PA casinos are already responding with increased amenities.  “You’re now starting to see these casinos starting to add hotels, shopping centers, bowling alleys… That’s the direction they’re heading.”

Casinos Impact More than PA Economy

Since Pennsylvania’s first casino opened its doors in Nov. 2006, the tax revenue from slot machines has topped $4.6-billion.  Today, Pennsylvania’s ten operating casinos employ more than 15,000 people.  Most will attest to the economic success of the industry in the Keystone State. 

However, casino gambling has also taken a toll on some Pennsylvania families.  The evidence can be found at the Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania call center.  “Prior to 2006, our helpline calls averaged around 300 calls per month,” says president and executive director Jim Pappas.  “Since the first casino opened… our monthly helpline activity has increased to the point we now average over 1,800 calls per month from within the state.” 

Pappas says the helpline activity comes predominantly from areas surrounding Pennsylvania’s casinos. “Years ago we didn’t get a lot of calls from northwestern PA, from Erie County, now we do,” Pappas explains.  “Because there is a casino opened, and racetrack, in Erie, Pennsylvania.” 

Of the 1,800 calls they receive per month, Pappas says 150 – 200 are from gamblers – or their significant others – in crisis.  Between 80 – 130 of them are referred to trained therapists to treat the issue, and Pappas says all of the callers are at least given the information of a Gamblers Anonymous support group in their area.    

The council’s call center answers four different gambler helpline numbers, but Pappas says the easiest to remember is 1-800-GAMBLER.  The state Department of Health has also launched a problem gambling website where you can assess your own risk of problem gambling.