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State Grants 1st Gambling License For A Convenience Store

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The exterior of Rutter's convenience store.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has granted a license to the owner of the Rutter's convenience store chain to install video gambling at a store in Walker Township, Juniata County.

The location, along Route 75 near Mifflintown and close to U.S. Route 322, the major highway artery in the area, becomes the first chain convenience store to get into Pennsylvania's exploding commercial gambling market.

Rutter's also has applications pending for 19 additional stores in Central Pennsylvania, some of them in communities that little more than a year ago specifically removed themselves from a separate site selection process for a new set of casinos.

PGCB spokesman Doug Harbach told the Walker Township store was acted on Wednesday primarily because it was the first of the Rutter's stores to have a completed review by the board's staff. The others remain under review.

"They may need to address some issues and that might take time on their end," Harbach said. "If remedied, they may eventually be recommended to the board for approval or, if they are not able to remedy in order to qualify under the guidelines of the act, then they may be recommended for denial.

"We are moving on them as quickly as our staffing will permit."

Rutter's operates about 70 company-owned stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. The company has identified slightly less than one-third of them as ripe for inclusion in Pennsylvania's truck stop gambling market.

Rutter's has said these are generally part of a newer set of stores that have been built-out on or near major highways, and have been designed to serve truck drivers.

"They're completely different than the Rutter's down at the corner," spokeswoman Pam Baldwin told PennLive last year. "We don't call them truck stops... But that's what they are designed to be."

She also said company executives see the new games as a logical extension of Rutter's work with the Pennsylvania Lottery system over the past 50 years.

Truck stop gambling emerged as one of the last compromises in the legislature's massive 2017 expansion of legal gambling.

Video gambling terminal suppliers, looking at this as the last big expansion of legalized gambling in Pennsylvania for years, wanted the right to be in licensed liquor establishments: bars, taverns and private social clubs. There are about 15,000 of them around the state.

Most of Pennsylvania's commercial casinos, meanwhile, were just as desperate to kill what they saw as a direct neighborhood threat to their established sites, with "baby casinos" in every neighborhood eating away at their market.

The final compromise was a proposal to run a pilot that would permit the games at certain qualifying Pennsylvania truck stops. Which meant, in the give-and-take of the gambling world, everything rested on how "truck stops" were defined in the bill.

The final bill cribbed certain requirements from Illinois, where truck stops have been hosting machines since 2012, including a minimum three-acre tract with separate islands for diesel fuel sales, separate parking areas for commercial vehicles and a minimum monthly diesel sales target.

In some cases, the Pennsylvania law was made more stringent.

Illinois, for example, requires a monthly average of 10,000 gallons in diesel sales; Pennsylvania set the limit at 50,000. Where Illinois simply required dedicated parking for commercial vehicles, Pennsylvania required 20 such spaces.

But another seemingly arcane point left the door open for a different kind of truck stop: legislative leaders and Wolf's staff decided to drop a new requirement promoted by many of the pro-casino advocates that a qualifying business have on-site shower facilities, something most traditional truck stops have, and virtually no convenience stores do.

The Rutter's applications have drawn an extra degree of public scrutiny because they are the first of Pennsylvania's major convenience store chains to attempt to break into the commercial gambling business. In addition, site-specific opposition has started to emerge in several communities where local sentiment runs high against permitting more expansion of gambling.

The Rutter's applications have drawn serious pushback in some municipalities, and two Lancaster County state senators are trying to fast-track legislation that would give local communities the right to opt-out of the VGT market as well.