Gaming oversight committee holds public hearing at The Meadows

The Meadows Racetrack & Casino owner Bill Paulos and vice president and general manager Sean Sullivan answer questions from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board during a public hearing on how to keep Pennsylvania casinos competitive. Photo:Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter
The Meadows Racetrack & Casino owner Bill Paulos and vice president and general manager Sean Sullivan answer questions from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board during a public hearing on how to keep Pennsylvania casinos competitive. Photo:Katie Roupe/Observer-Reporter

The state House Gaming Oversight Committee held a public hearing Thursday afternoon at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino to discuss ways to keep Pennsylvania casinos competitive in a growing gambling industry.

The hearing included testimony from Bill Paulos, a principal with Cannery Casino Resorts and owner of The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, and Sean Sullivan, vice president and general manager, and other executives, who discussed three topics: online gaming, out-of-state marketing and streamlining the regulatory process, including employee licensing.

The hearing was led by state Rep. John Payne, chairman of the Gaming Oversight Committee, who recently introduced a house bill that would enable Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to explore online gambling options and to create regulations for any games it approved, such as online poker or fantasy sports.

Other hearings are being held throughout the state.

Payne said the goal of the hearings is to gather information and ideas from the operators of the state’s 12 casinos and to determine how to keep them competitive as gambling expands in surround states.

In recent years, gambling was legalized in Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland.

“This is a great opportunity for us to get out in the field. I’d rather get out and talk directly to the customer, instead of sitting in Harrisburg inside the white marble walls,” said Payne.

Regarding online gaming, Sullivan said, “We support what the best interests are for Commonwealth and its needs for increased revenues…as long as it’s reasonable.”

He proposed the state consider any upfront fee as advanced payment toward taxes, and also a 10 percent revenue tax. He also said online gaming should include all casino games, but did not predict the profitability of online games in Pennsylvania, with its 12.7 million residents.

Meadows executives do not recommend video gaming terminals, noting that nearly 40,000 illegal gambling devices are operating in the state.

Sullivan said casino attendance and revenues are down 17 percent and 16 percent, respectively, since VGTs came online in 2012.

Sullivan also told committee members that Meadows slot revenues and table game revenues, both in-state and out-of-state, have continued to decline since Ohio casinos opened, and West Virginia casinos also have had an impact.

Executives also presented a promotional plan to increase gaming revenue and tax; asked for 24-hour casino alcohol service; recommended reducing the number of days harness racing is offered from 208 days to 148 days, which will result in an increase in largest daily purses from $130,000 to $183,000; and recommended that the state simplify a vendor approval process in order to enable more small businesses the opportunity to work with the casinos.

Mike Keelon, director of compliance at The Meadows, told the committee it currently takes four weeks for a newly hired employee to complete all necessary licensing, and said employees shouldn’t have to wait that long.

Paulos said the casino loses 10 to 20 percent of the employees to which it offers jobs because they can’t wait that long to accept a job.