Pennsylvania Casinos Furious Skill Gaming Machines Keep Spinning

Posted on: May 19, 2020, 12:20h. 

Last updated on: May 19, 2020, 12:49h.

Pennsylvania casinos are calling on state law enforcement to immediately order convenience stores to shutter their so-called “skill gaming” machines that have generated much controversy throughout the Commonwealth.

Pennsylvania casinos skill gaming machines
Pennsylvania casinos say if their slot machines are forced to disable amid COVID-19, police should be seizing skill gaming terminals found inside gas stations and convenience stores. (Image: Bill Uhrich/Reading Eagle)

Skill gaming machines closely resemble slot machines. The primary difference is that, unlike a regulated slot machine that automatically tells the gambler whether the spin won or lost, on skill gaming devices the player must identify the winning payline.

The unregulated machines have proliferated in bars, restaurants, and convenience stores in recent years. The state’s casino operators want them eradicated, and during their shutdown from the coronavirus, the licensed gaming companies are becoming increasingly frustrated that the “skill” devices largely remain operational.

Penn Live reported this week that an attorney representing several casinos emailed state officials demanding law enforcement act to seize the machines. The email was accompanied by a photo showing one such skill gaming terminal in operation just steps from the State Capitol building in Harrisburg.

An email from seeking comment from the law firm representing Parx Casino outside Philadelphia in the skill gaming matter wasn’t answered.

Slots Turned Off

All 12 Pennsylvania casinos have been closed since Gov. Tom Wolf (D) shut down all nonessential businesses back in March. There’s no concrete timetable as to when they might be allowed to reopen.

The casinos won $200.36 million on their slot machines in April 2019 – but $0 last month. The brick-and-mortar gaming floors also missed out on $77.45 million in April 2019 table game revenue.

Pennsylvania is one of the few states that permits online gambling, which saw an increase in gross gaming revenue (GGR) last month due to the land-based facilities remaining closed. Internet slots won $27.32 million, and internet tables won $10.49 million.

While the casinos lose tens of millions of dollars, the skill gaming machines are filling in the gambling void for some players. “I would be bored otherwise,” Carlisle resident Lakisha Ramsey told PennLive. She won $720 playing a skill gaming machine earlier this month.

Skill Machines Should Be Off

In Wolf’s emergency declaration order issued March 19, the state told establishments with skill gaming machines, “Operations of these machines during the current health emergency encourages people to congregate unnecessarily and is prohibited under the Governor’s order of March 19, 2020.”

Any business operating, servicing, or otherwise maintaining a ‘Game of Skill’ is subject to enforcement which may include an order to suspend otherwise authorized in-person operations,” the directive warned.

Skill gaming machines, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) has said in the past, do not fall under its legal regulatory authority. A Commonwealth judge agreed in November, ruling that the Gaming Act does not regulate unlicensed slot machines.

The Pennsylvania State Police are not currently seizing such devices. Instead, law enforcement has called on the General Assembly to pass legislation declaring the machines illegal gambling devices.

In the interim, convenience store owners are keeping the terminals on. One establishment told that after initially disabling the machines, he turned them back on after several customers complained, and reports surfaced that they were on at other competitor stores.