Philadelphia City Council Weighs Skill Game Ban, Governor Supportive

Posted on: February 21, 2024, 10:16h. 

Last updated on: February 21, 2024, 10:39h.

The Philadelphia City Council is considering a local bill that would prohibit so-called “skill games” inside most businesses.

Philadelphia skill gaming ban
An ax-wielding man tries to break a Pennsylvania Skill gaming cabinet at a 7-Eleven in Philadelphia. The city council has suggested banning skill games in corner stores. (Image: 6ABC)

Adding legal complexity to the already contentious topic of skill games — slot-like gaming terminals commonly found in restaurants, bars, gas stations, convenience stores, grocery outlets, and bodegas — 10 Philly councilmembers have introduced a local law that would prohibit the machines unless certain conditions are met.

Bill No. 240010 would amend The Philadelphia Code to ban skill games like the popular Pennsylvania Skill title.

“It shall be unlawful for a business to operate any casino-style or skill game that accepts cash payment for the chance of a cash reward and is not otherwise regulated by the State of Pennsylvania,” the proposed statute reads.

The bill clarifies that a “gambling” or “skill-based cash payout device” means a “device that accepts cash payments for the chance of a cash reward in connection with playing one or more casino-style games, one or more skill-based games, or a combination of such games.”

The Philadelphia City Council is the legislative body of Pennsylvania’s most populated city. The ordinance already has majority support in the 17-seat council.

Councilmembers who endorsed the skill gaming ban include Curtis Jones, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Nina Ahmad, Anthony Phillips, Jeffery Young Jr., Cindy Bass, Jamie Gauthier, Mark Squilla, Jim Harrity, and Rue Landau. All are Democrats.

Liquor Exceptions

The Philadelphia City Council’s skill gaming statute would allow certain restaurants and watering holes to continue offering such machines.

Bill No. 240010 provides exemptions for businesses that possess a slot license from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board or a liquor license from the Pennsylvania Control Board. A business with either license, or both, must additionally have a minimum of 20 seats at which patrons can eat or drink. Businesses that don’t meet those conditions risk being subject to a daily fine of $1,000 per device present.

The council members in support of the statute claim the presence of skill games has led to people congregating in gas stations and corner stores that cannot accommodate such groups. The loitering, the councilors say, has led to crime, robberies, criminal association, fights, and gunfire.

The ordinance has the support of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel.

The violence we see around our stores when we have these gatherings — particularly in some of our more violent pockets — is just adding another ingredient [to crime].”

Pennsylvania courts last year ruled that skill games are different from casino slots and therefore aren’t illegal under the state’s current Gaming Act. The state’s attorney general is appealing the matter to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

“We’ve been kicking the can down the road too long, and almost to a degree that these operators believe that they don’t have to answer to the City of Philadelphia,” said bill author Jones. “Well, that ends today.”

Gov. Seeks Skill Game Money

Many small businesses across the commonwealth say skill games have provided critical revenue to offset pandemic losses. They say the games typically result in players making purchases at the host business.

Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) assumed tax revenue from skill games in his recently proposed 2024-25 fiscal year budget. Shapiro expects the state General Assembly to pass legislation to provide a legal and regulatory framework for the machines that are currently unregulated and untaxed. Shapiro, a rising star in the Democratic Party, wants a 42% cut of the skill gaming proceeds.

Pace-O-Matic is the leading software developer for skill games, including the Pennsylvania Skill terminals. The Georgia-based company says it will file a lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia should the council implement the skill gaming law.