Skill Gaming Machines Stir Controversy in Pennsylvania

The state of Pennsylvania has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and many businesses and industries have been shut down since mid-March. Skill gaming machines have continued to operate throughout the state, and opponents of these machines are determined to get these machines shut down.

Pennsylvanians Against Illegal Gambling (PAIG) is the main group looking to get these machines shut down, and they have started an aggressive campaign. The PAIG has started a radio campaign urging listeners to support their cause, and warning about the dangers of these machines.

These machines are usually found in restaurants and bars throughout the state, but they are also found in standalone locations. A number of these businesses have kept their machines up and running, giving residents a chance to gamble throughout the pandemic.

The Pennsylvania State Lottery has continued to operate during the pandemic, but ticket sales have dropped significantly. There are 12 casinos in the state, and all of them have been shut down since March 16.

The biggest argument that the PAIG has made in their radio campaign is that these skill gaming machines do not provide any benefit to residents. The machines are not regulated by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and therefore, they do not have to pay any taxes or fees to the state.

There are more than 20,000 of these skill gaming machines located throughout the state, and they cost the state approximately $200 million per year. Profits from the machines are split between the supplier, manufacturer, and host establishment.

Other gambling outlets in the state bring in a ton of revenue for the state, and that money goes towards helping specific groups. The Pennsylvania Lottery provides senior citizens with property tax rebates, meals, and prescription assistance.

Property tax relief is also provided for all other citizens of Pennsylvania through slot machine revenue that is won inside of the casinos. The casino industry also helps support economic development, local governments, and the horse racing industry.

The PAIG is hoping that they will gain enough support and attention during their campaign to convince lawmakers to make a change. Businesses that house these machines will not shut them down unless they are forced to do so.

Are Skill Games Legal?

Another major debate regarding these machines centers around the legality of skill games taking place in the state. Governor Tom Wolf has long been an advocate of these games being illegal, and he has worked to get them shut down.

The skill gaming machines work in much the same way as a slot machine, but there is one difference that allows them to fall under the “skill category.” Players must tap on the winning combination instead of the winning paylines automatically paying out. Opponents argue that there is no skill involved in simply tapping a button.

Wolf and other lawmakers have made it clear that these machines are not authorized anywhere in the state of Pennsylvania, yet they continue to stay in operation. Businesses have been warned that they are subject to fines or other forms of punishment, but there isn’t much that the state can do at this point.

Police have attempted to seize these machines at different times, but this action is always followed by a lawsuit. Superior Court Judge Patricia McCullough ultimately decided that these machines were not subject to the Gaming Act, and they were allowed to operate.

Casino law in Pennsylvania does not cover unlawful gambling, but that could change in the coming months. Lawmakers are being asked to pass a new law that would make any machine not covered in the Gaming Act illegal.

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Rebecca lives in Las Vegas and after completing her degree at Reynolds Journalism school joined the USGS team to pursue her journalism dreams.