At Pennsylvania’s casinos you can play slots all night.
You can play poker all night.
But you can’t drink all night.
“Many states have 24-hour liquor in their casinos,” said Representative John Payne (R-Dauphin). “We don’t.”
But PA lawmakers gave last call to that law last month and Governor Wolf signed off.
Act 39 allows casinos to sell booze around the clock. But there’s a costly catch. The license fee is $1 million per year for the first four years and a $250,000 a year renewal after that.
“We took a look at it and we couldn’t make the numbers work,” said Eric Schippers, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs for Penn National Gaming, parent company of Hollywood Casino in Grantville. “It’s simply too high a cost.”
Penn National is not alone. As of Wednesday afternoon, none of Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos has anted up for a 24-7 liquor license.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Payne, who chairs the House Gaming Oversight Committee. He said he understands why casinos might think lawmakers are dealing from the bottom of the deck with Act 39.
“They (the casinos) could be saying look we already paid $50 million for the license, we probably should’ve gotten the liquor license included. Somebody didn’t negotiate a good deal back in 2004.”
Payne also says there’s a little gaming going on between state government and the state’s casino operators.
“If we said we’ll give it to you for a thousand bucks they’d of all signed up. But if you say it’s a million dollars, now they’re gonna come in and negotiate and say I won’t pay a million but this number will work.”
In fact, Payne says negotiations are already underway to re-work, and decrease, that up-front fee. One proposal being whispered at the Capitol has it at $500,000.
“Is it $500,000 a year every year forever?” Payne asks. “That’s not gonna bite. Is it $500,000 initially and then some recurring fee that’s lower? That would work.”
But not for everyone. Penn National says even at a half million dollars it’s not a good bet.
“Just based on the customer demographics, serving alcohol 24 hours is not something we think is a profitable venture for us,” Schippers said.