Two Pennsylvania Legislators Seek To Outlaw ‘Skill’ Games

Two Pennsylvania Legislators Seek To Outlaw ‘Skill’ Games
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

Two Pennsylvania state legislators, Sen. Amanda Cappelletti and Rep. Mark Rozzi, announced on Oct. 31 that they plan to introduce legislation that would outlaw so-called “skill” machines in the commonwealth. That’s according to a news release from the PA House Democrats, Southeast Delegation. Cappelletti, from Delaware County, and Rozzi, from Berks County, are Democrats.

The machines the two legislators are targeting resemble Pennsylvania slots machines. Those are found in a variety of establishments, such as convenience stores, restaurants, bars, gas stations, fraternal organization lodges and similar places.

Machines Have Long Been Controversial

The “skill” machines have been a convoluted and contentious issue in Pennsylvania (and elsewhere) for years. Proponents of the games insist that there are elements of the machines that make them stand apart from “slot” machines, despite appearances. Not surprisingly, the state’s legal casino industry – and the casino industry at-large – see the skill machines as unregulated competitors siphoning revenue from the regulated gambling industry. In the Keystone State, that includes Pennsylvania online casinos, retail counterparts, plus mobile and in-person wagering on sports.

In their announcement, Cappelletti and Rozzi argue that the skill machines “steal money” from programs that are funded by the formally regulated gaming industry. A 52% tax rate on slot machine revenue goes toward the commonwealth’s Property Tax Relief Fund, the Race Horse Development Fund, and other purposes, such as volunteer firefighting.

“These gaming machines can be found in convenience stores, restaurants, malls, gas stations and other places of business throughout Pennsylvania,” Cappelletti said in the news release from the PA House website. “Despite the illusion that the state has oversight, there are no consumer protection measures, prevention of play by minors, assistance for problem gamblers, money laundering controls, or other regulations protecting Pennsylvanians from these predatory machines.”

The legislators also contended that skill machines attract criminal activity.

Arguments In Favor Of Machines

Meanwhile, smaller business owners counter that the machines contribute important revenue in keeping their businesses operating. Reportedly, skill game advocates, including some legislators, have suggested that the machines be further regulated and taxed just as PA casino apps and brick-and-mortar facilities are.

Among the complications regarding skill games are that court rulings have not provided clarity. This year, Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry was quoted as saying, “It’s a difficult area to navigate because we’ve had different court rulings with regard to these machines.”

However, the legislators pushing the bills to outlaw skill machines pointed to a recent legal brief filed in Commonwealth Court by the Criminal Law Division of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General to illustrate what they argue is the fallacy behind arguments regarding the notion of skill games and the inclusion of a “Follow Me” component.

According to the legislators, prosecutors argued: “If ... a company decided to sell lottery tickets and drew numbers with the same ball machine used by the state lottery that would certainly be an illegal lottery. The nature of the lottery wouldn’t be changed if all losing players were given a chance to try to kick a 70-yard field goal to win back their bet plus 5%. A lottery is still a lottery.

“So too here. These devices are slot machines. (The skill game proponents) do not actually directly challenge that conclusion. Instead they argue that every player gets to essentially ‘kick a 70-yard field goal’ to win five cents on the dollar. ‘Follow Me’ does not change the innate nature of this device (i.e. the skill game). It is a slot machine.”

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Bill Ordine

A longtime reporter and editor who began writing on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened, Bill covered the world Series of Poker and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for a decade.

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