Games of skill

Pennsylvania games of skill are played at Sunoco 280 N. Decatur St. in Strasburg Monday, June 10, 2019. Pennsylvania legislators are currently considering legislation that ban games of skill.

In Lancaster County, where almost all municipalities banned video gaming terminals, look-alike games of skill machines can remain unregulated, the Commonwealth Court ruled last week.

Video gaming terminals — dubbed VGTs by industry insiders — were legalized as part of a 2017 expanded gambling law also signed by Wolf.

Games of skill machines – often under the brand “Pennsylvania Skill” – look very similar to slot machines but have been in legal limbo in the state despite their proliferation in bars, convenience stores and fraternal organizations in the county and  throughout the state. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue had argued in court that the skills games are considered a slot machine under Pennsylvania’s Race Horse Development and Gaming Act and that the games were in violation of the law by not being  inspected or certified by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

But the Commonwealth Court in a decision handed down November 20 said games of skill machines are not subject to the Gaming Act.

The court’s decision stemmed from a lawsuit involving the Department of Revenue and its operator Pace-O-Matic. The company filed the lawsuit after the City of Philadelphia seized Pace-O-Matic machines at 11 different locations, arresting employees and seizing funds for allegedly violating state gaming laws.

There are approximately 12,000 machines across Pennsylvania, estimates Pace-O-Matic, its software creator. The machines are manufactured in Williamsport by Miele Amusements.

Both Sens. Ryan Aument, R-Mount Joy, and Scott Martin are co-sponsors of legislation pending in the Senate Judiciary committee that would ban skill games. 

“It seems like they’re spreading like wildfire,” Martin said in June about the skill games.

The Pennsylvania State Police agency is still reviewing the court’s ruling, a spokesperson wrote in a statement. The state police previously told LNP they support legislation to ban the skill machines.

“Enforcement against illegal gambling will continue in accordance with Title 18, the Pennsylvania Crimes Code,” State Police spokesperson Ryan Tartowski wrote. “It is important for the public to recognize that the recent Commonwealth Court ruling in no way legitimizes illegal gambling activity.”

A Department of Revenue spokesperson said the agency is also still reviewing the opinion and determining next steps.

Pace-O-Matic is asking for oversight and regulation on their industry, but opposes bills to ban them or subject them to the high tax rates paid by video gaming terminals and casinos.

“Pace-O-Matic of Pennsylvania is committed to continuing to work with the legislature to regulate, tax and provide strict enforcement of the legal skill game industry,” its spokesperson Mike Barley said in a statement following the ruling. “We believe the revenue we are providing to small businesses and fraternal clubs, the jobs that are being created and the tens of millions of dollars we have paid in taxes to the state prove that we are laying a solid foundation for the legal skill game industry that benefits Pennsylvania.”