Pennsylvania Legislators Propose Bill to Outlaw ‘Games of Skill,’ Owners Say They’re Not Gambling

Posted on: June 6, 2019, 05:31h. 

Last updated on: June 6, 2019, 05:32h.

Soon after after the Pennsylvania Lottery called for a crackdown on the machines, lawmakers say they are introducing legislation that would put an end to the “Games of Skill” that are found at many locations across the state.

Games of Skill PA
Machines billed as “Games of Skill” are being targeted by Pennsylvania legislators who say they should be considered illegal gambling devices. (Image: The Lotto King/YouTube)

State Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks County) says that while the games are likely already illegal under current law, new legislation could clarify that position, putting an end to any ambiguity that might exist.

Legislation Seeks to Remove Legal Ambiguity

Tomlinson argues that the machines are illegal under recent updates to the state’s gaming laws. But that hasn’t stopped them from proliferating at convenience stores and other venues.

“Lawyers are lawyers, and the court system is the court system,” Tomlinson told KYW Newsradio. “So I think it’s important that we try to take this approach.”

According to Major Scott T. Miller, who directs the state polices’ Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, said that these “games of skill” are present in every county throughout Pennsylvania.

“We continue to see an increase of suspected illegal gambling devices within licensed liquor establishments, but perhaps even more concerning is the illegal gambling happening in convenience stores, strip malls, and shopping centers,” Miller said in a press release. “This bill provides clear guidelines to aid in voluntary compliance by business owners, club officers, and vending distributors, as well as enhanced penalties for those who violate the law.”

The bill would enforce strict penalties that start with fines of at least $5,000 on a first conviction. By the time a violator was charged for a third offense, the crime would increase to a third-degree felony with a fine of at least $15,000.

Tomlinson: Even Games of Skill Can Be Gambling

Operators and vendors have pointed out that these machines have been deemed legal based on a 2014 court case in Beaver County. They also point to the fact that there is at least some element of skill in how they are played. While they look similar to slot machines, users must manipulate symbols in order to win prizes. Typically, finding the correct plays is a simple task, but it isn’t entirely automatic.

But Tomlinson disputes this characterization, noting that just because a task involves strategy or skill, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t also gambling.

“It’s pretty common sense to know what gambling is,” Tomlinson told WJAC. “They hang their hat on ‘it takes skill to win.’ It takes skill to win at poker and it takes skill to win at blackjack.”

For the Pennsylvania Lottery, the biggest issue is just how much money these games of skill are taking out of the state coffers. Lottery officials have said that they lose as much as $138 million each year because of the machines, and that around 20 percent of retailers that sell state lottery products also offer the skill game machines.

“These machines have the potential to cost the Lottery hundreds of millions of dollars in future harm,” Pennsylvania Lottery executive director Drew Svitko said in a press release. “It’s imperative that we take action now to protect the funding that supports the programs that older Pennsylvanians rely upon each year.”