Pennsylvania Editorial Board Calls for Skill Gaming Ban

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Posted on: August 1, 2023, 08:41h. 

Last updated on: August 1, 2023, 08:51h.

The Editorial Board of The Patriot-News in Harrisburg believes Pennsylvania lawmakers would be smart to ban so-called “skill gaming” machines that litter convenience stores, restaurants, and bars across the commonwealth.

Pennsylvania skill gaming machines editorial board
A bank of Pennsylvania Skill gaming machines. A leading Pennsylvania editorial board is calling on state lawmakers to outlaw the controversial gaming machines. (Image: Scranton Times-Tribune)

Skill gaming machines look, sound, and operate similarly to a traditional slot machine found inside one of Pennsylvania’s 17 brick-and-mortar casinos, but their gameplay differs in that a player must identify a winning payline. With a traditional slot machine, the device automatically tells the player if the spin won and credits the patron’s balance.

In Pennsylvania, the most widespread skill gaming terminals are branded “Pennsylvania Skill.” Virginia-based gaming firm Pace-O-Matic manufactures the gaming cabinets, which small business owners credit for being lifesavers during, and in the aftermath of, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many local businesses say the gaming machines, which aren’t regulated nor taxed, have provided critical income since 2020. And with inflation soaring after the pandemic, the machines have allowed such businesses to increase pay for workers and even hire additional employees.

Underage Concerns

The Patriot-News Editorial Board acknowledges that skill gaming machines have provided many small businesses with a vital new source of revenue. Income generated by the machines is typically split between the host establishment, the gaming manufacturer, and the machine’s route distributor.

But the media outlet’s op-ed this week says the small business benefits don’t outweigh societal concerns the machines bring to the Keystone State. The editorial board specifically relayed worries about the machines being accessed by children and underage people.

While small business may agree to abide by the rules, it would be difficult and costly for them to guarantee the same protections as those at casinos — trained staff to monitor machines; detailed accounting of payouts; and, most of all, security to enforce the regulations. The machines are profitable now because many business owners simply line them up against a wall and look the other way,” the op-ed read.

Skill gaming machines are often located in parts of restaurants and gas stations that aren’t closely supervised. While casinos face hefty fines for accidentally allowing an underage person access, the Pennsylvania Gambling Control Board (PGCB) has no legal authority to fine or penalize skill gaming establishments that allow someone underage to gamble.

The casino industry argues there are also no safeguards to protect problem gamblers who have self-excluded themselves from the state’s land-based casinos or online gaming platforms from accessing skill gaming machines.

“We are concerned about consumer protection,” PGCB Chair Denise Smyler said during the East Coast Gaming Congress in April. “There are no age restrictions. Anyone can go in and play these machines.

“We have 20,000 people signed up for our self-exclusion program and any one of those 20,000 people can go into these illegal gaming establishments and spend as much time and money gambling. It cuts against them trying to fight their addiction,” Smyler added.   

No Gambling Age Requirement

There is actually no legal age requirement to play skill games in Pennsylvania, as the machines aren’t legal, but instead, remain in a grey area. Their legality remains tied up in state courts. Pennsylvania Skill machines do advertise that the terminals are only for players aged 18 and older.

Attorneys for many of the Pennsylvania casinos argue that skill games constitute illegal gambling. But Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough in 2019 ruled that since the state’s Gaming Act only regulates games of chance like slots and table games, skill games don’t fall under the scope of the law. Her ruling essentially halted Pennsylvania State Police from seizing skill games.

The Pennsylvania gaming industry in March appealed McCullough’s ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. There are also legislative efforts in the Harrisburg capital to both authorize and regulate skill games, as well as explicitly ban them. No statute has yet found adequate support.

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