Senator Katie Muth, chair of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee, and Senator Amanda Cappelletti co-hosted a public hearing on Aug. 23 to discuss skill games in Pennsylvania.
The hearing, held in Radnor, involved three panels of testimony from gaming, regulation, and law enforcement experts. That included representatives from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) and Pennsylvania casinos.
The status of Pennsylvania skill games is an ongoing court battle over the legality of the games and how they affect people in the community directly and indirectly. Skill games look like slot machines but differ in a way that a skilled player can theoretically win every time. These games are usually placed in bars, private clubs, truck stops or gas stations, and do not fall under gaming regulations.
There are three possible scenarios regarding PA skill games. Pennsylvania regulators can keep skill games unregulated, regulate them with tax structure or ban them entirely.
The Commonwealth Court has ruled that the games are legal without a need to be regulated or taxed. The PGCB, on the other hand, is still deciding on its position, suggesting skill games should be treated the same as machines in casinos or declared illegal.
Pennsylvania regulators would like a decision on skill games made soon
The PGCB is still neutral on a position on skill games. In their hearing last week, Pennsylvania regulators made suggestions indicating they would like a decision to be made as soon as possible. Muth said on the Pennsylvania Senate’s website:
“The issue of skill games in Pennsylvania is a complicated topic and we really need to be thoughtful and consider all perspectives on this issue – law enforcement and gaming regulators, but also that of small business owners and our VFWs that rely on these machines for revenue.”
The American Gaming Association (AGA) indicated that the number of skill games significantly outnumbered the 25,746 regulated slot machines across the state. The AGA estimates that 61% of gambling machines are unregulated in Pennsylvania.
Senator Cappelletti added:
“Any expansion of the gaming industry in the Commonwealth is cause for skepticism and requires thoughtful action. The alarming rate at which these so-called ‘skill games’ are growing in prevalence demands a response.”
Cappelletti also circulated a cosponsor memo suggesting adding skill games to the list of illegal gambling devices.
Sen. Gene Yaw introduced legislation requiring taxing skill games at a 16% rate in a push to regulate skill games in June.
The case is in the PA Supreme Court with unknown timeline for a decision
The case is still ongoing, currently sitting in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The PGCB and Department of Revenue (DOR) are also involved, while Lamb McErlane represents six PA casinos in opposition to skill games.
All parties oppose a skill game machine manufacturer, Pace-O-Matic (POM). POM said its skill games have become popular in clubs and non-profit organizations like VFW Posts and volunteer fire companies that receive a share of profits from the machines.
Earlier this year, the court in the state ruled that the DOR essentially stole cash and property from Pace-o-Matic and had to give it all back. In March, the state’s Supreme Court granted review to an appeal saying it would consider POM of Pennsylvania vs. DOR. Pace-o-Matic already won similar cases in 2014, 2019, and 2022.
The timeline of a decision on the legality of skill games in Pennsylvania remains unknown.