When I first started out in politics, I naively believed that anyone getting into public service must want to help others. As lawmakers, we are tasked with putting forth policies that support the average Pennsylvanian and building a commonwealth where anyone can thrive. I have since learned that this is just not the case.
Too many of my peers in Harrisburg have made it their mission to jeopardize small businesses – the backbone of our economy – and threaten the very livelihoods of their own constituents. Even worse, some of those same politicians have put the wishes of big, internationally-owned casino conglomerates over the best interests of our local VFWs, American Legions, volunteer firefighters, and other fraternal organizations.
Their latest attack is an attempt to ban skill games. Contrary to what casino-puppet legislators will tell you, skill games are not gambling machines. This is not up for debate. Every court in the commonwealth that has evaluated the games has ruled that they are legal. So, we can stop pretending that this issue is about anything other than creating a monopoly for casinos on the backs of Main Street Pennsylvanians.
To small businesses across the commonwealth – these legislators do not care if you stay in business. They do not care if you can pay your bills. They do not care if you can make payroll. They do not care if you can provide for your family.
These are the same politicians that pushed for CoViD-19 closures, capacity limits, vaccine mandates, and other anti-small-business legislation just a few years ago. When it will be enough?
Skill games have provided hundreds of small businesses across Pennsylvania with an entertainment option that their customers will play while spending money on food, beverages, and other games. These small businesses use that money to pay for bills, location updates, employee benefits, events, charitable donations, and more.
Skill games are found in reputable family-run businesses including restaurants and bars as well as fraternal organizations and fire halls. These are your neighborhood watering holes, your mom-and-pop shops, your “Cheers.” They are not in seedy backroom mini-casinos as some would have you believe.
It is worth noting that the skill game industry has, year after year, come to the legislature and asked to be regulated and taxed. Not only would that support the commonwealth by generating hundreds of millions in additional tax revenue per year, but it would give law enforcement the framework they need to cut down on illegal gambling once and for all.
Those who oppose skill games love to lament how the games are not regulated. Well, there’s an easy solution – regulate them. The very entities that complain about skill games being unregulated are also the ones who have stood in the way of regulation.
Anyone who works in the retail or restaurant industry knows that these businesses operate on thin margins and are still, three years after the pandemic, heavily impacted by inflation and staffing shortages. The result of bad policies from Democrats in Washington, DC and Harrisburg.
At the same time, restaurants are some of our most important community spaces. We learned this during the pandemic. They are where we share meals, enjoy the company of loved ones, and support causes. But more than that, they are critical economic drivers. Restaurants are one of the largest employers and tax revenue generators in the state. Should not be doing everything we can to keep them in business?
Many veterans organizations also rely on skill games for critical income. VFW halls and American Legion posts across the commonwealth have been able to afford to make renovations, provide additional services to their members, and pay employees because of skill games. I thought we could all agree that veterans, those who selflessly served our country, deserve spaces where they can share camaraderie among their peers. Isn’t that the least we can do in return?
Lastly, the assertion that skill games harm the state lottery or casinos is, simply, a farse. This is a tired narrative that has no basis in fact. Rather, research has shown that skill games positively impact the lottery and have no impact on casinos.
Those pushing a ban on skill games would have the public believe the sky is falling rather than face even a whiff of any perceived competition.
Are we really meant to encourage big businesses to turn to political strong-arming when they feel slightly threatened? What’s American about that?
Now, let me address my peers in the legislature directly. At the end of your political career, when you look back on your legacy, would you like to have supported big gaming giants or Pennsylvania’s struggling small businesses and fraternal clubs?
My focus has been, and always will be, on the small businesses and organizations that serve our community.
Aaron Bernstine (R)
8th Legislative District
Pennsylvania State Representative