Legal limbo

Pennsylvania bill to legalize and tax video skill games to be filed by Senator

Skill games machines at a Pennsylvania store.
Reading time 1:58 min
These games, which are similar to slots and have become increasingly popular in stores and small businesses, could become legalized and taxed under a new bill to be introduced by Senator Gene Yaw, of Williamsport. While they have been deemed legal by a 2014 court decision, they have been operated outside the reach of the Gaming Control Board, which has led to controversy.

Slot-like video skill games in Pennsylvania might soon become legal after years of operating in legal limbo.

According to abc 27, these popular machines, frequently found in bars, restaurants and convenience stores, might undergo a regulation process. Senator Gene Yaw, of Williamsport, plans to introduce a bill to legalize and tax them. He is also being reportedly backed by Rep. Jeff Wheeland in this effort.

These skill games were first deemed legal by a 2014 Court of Common Pleas decision, in Beaver County. Throughout the pandemic, they provided much-needed revenue for small businesses and organizations, such as VFWs and American Legions, which said they would have shut down had it not been for these funds, reports FOX56.

While the legalized gaming industry has led to the creation of more than 20,000 jobs and more than $1 billion in tax revenue since 2004, skill games have operated in an unregulated manner, meaning they have not been subjected to taxation.

Several senators have described this as “illegal gambling” since consumers spend and can win money as they would on slot machines, but skill games are not regulated by the state Gaming Control Board. "I'd like to see them banned," Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman said earlier this year to USA TODAY. "At minimum, they should be regulated."

In comparison, owners of venues featuring these controversial games have defended them. “They’ve been a game-changer,” said Ryan Sprankle, who co-owns market stores in Kittanning, Leechburg and Saxonburg. He has five Pace-O-Matic Pennsylvania Skill Game machines in each of his three stores and gets 40% of the profits.

Lobbying and political contributions have increased along with the number of skill games to be found across Pennsylvania. According to Goerie, Georgia-based developer of games of skill Pace-O-Matic has spent more than $1 million lobbying in the state since 2018.

Seven years since the decision that declared skill games as legal and true games of skill, and not of chance, lawmakers and lawyers still have opposing views on whether they are illegal. Some have called for regulation to be set, taking into account that, by not being in casinos, they can be found in markets and stores where children can gain access to them.

On the other hand, critics of the legalization proposal claim that, should this happen, revenue would be taken away from the lottery and casinos that have paid money for their licenses.

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