Guest editorial | How they spent their summer vacation | Editorials

The following editorial appeared in the Scranton Times-Tribune. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat.

As state lawmakers trickle back to Harrisburg, state residents might be interested to know how the legislators spent their unduly long summer vacations.

Not surprisingly, some spent at least part of it in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with special-interest lobbyists.

Pace-O-Matic, which produces the slot-machine-like video gambling devices known as “skill games,” which have proliferated in gas stations and convenience stores, whisked five Republican state lawmakers to Cheyenne Frontier Days, billed as the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and celebration of Western American culture.

The contingent included Rep. Kerry Benninghoff of Center County, the House majority leader, and Rep. Sue Helm of Dauphin County, chairwoman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee. The state estimates Pennsylvania has about 50,000 of the gambling machines.

Benninghoff reimbursed Pace-O-Matic for the $1,700 cost of the junket, but Helm and several others left the company to pick up the tab. She told Spotlight PA, which reported on the lobbying sojourn, that it was “not a lavish trip.” …They weren’t paying for first-class airfare.”

The devices are controversial because they are not regulated. Neither the state nor casinos get a cut of the vigorish. Casinos have lobbied furiously against the devices, and that lobbying has produced pro- and anti-convenience-store gambling advocates, and not necessarily along strict party lines.

Since 2019, state records show, the “skill games” industry has contributed more than $1.2 million to the campaigns of Pennsylvania politicians, including $28,500 to Benninghoff and $8,500 to Helm.

The ostensible purpose of the rodeo trip was for Pennsylvania lawmakers to learn how their Wyoming counterparts had handled the non-casino gambling device issue. It was not clear why a trip to Wyoming was necessary to discover what the Wyoming Legislature had done.

Meanwhile back at the ranch – the Pennsylvania Capitol – legislators wine and dine with lobbyists and continue to refuse to entertain a ban on “gifts.”

They may accept “gifts” in any amount but must disclose anything worth more than $250 and travel and hospitality of more than $650.

So, while the world’s largest outdoor rodeo might be in Wyoming, in the Legislature it’s always “Ride ’em, cowboy!”

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