A heated debate unfolded in front of the Pennsylvania Senate Community, Economic, and Recreational Development Committee last week as lawmakers, casino industry representatives, and skill game advocates clashed over the potential regulation of so-called “skill games.” The controversial terminals, resembling slot machines but requiring player skill, have flooded bars, clubs, gas stations, and convenience stores across the state.
Proposed Bill Sparks Debate Over Pennsylvania Skill Games Regulation
Skill games, often branded as “Pennsylvania Skill,” have become lifelines for small businesses, especially during the pandemic, according to proponents like Pace-O-Matic (POM), the Georgia-based gaming developer behind these terminals. However, the state’s commercial gaming industry claims these unregulated machines are cleverly designed slot machines, bypassing state gaming laws and stealing patrons from casinos.
In May, Senate Bill 706 was introduced, aiming to regulate and tax skill games. The bill, coauthored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, proposes limiting the number of skill games in businesses and imposing a 16% state tax on their earnings. During the meeting with the Pennsylvania Senate Community, Economic, and Recreational Development Committee casino representatives argued that this bill falls short of protecting consumers and the state’s regulated gambling industry, which contributes significantly to the state’s revenue.
Pennsylvania Skill Games Pit Businesses Against State’s Regulated Casinos
Eric Schippers, Senior Vice President of Penn Entertainment, expressed concerns before the Senate committee, emphasizing that the proliferation of skill games jeopardizes the state’s gaming tax benefits, capital investments, jobs, and economic development. He pointed out that these unregulated games poach players from casinos since they are more accessible and often located closer to home.
Representatives from Parx Casino and Live! Casino echoed these concerns, emphasizing the lack of consumer safeguards in skill gaming machines. Unlike regulated casino slots, these games are not monitored for fair play or mandated to adhere to a minimum payout rate. Skill games also lack stringent age verification measures, raising concerns about underage gambling.
Skill game proponents, represented by Michael Barley, chief public affairs officer for POM, argued for the industry’s monitoring and taxation. Barley suggested that the decline in casino slot play might be attributed to the state’s 2017 legalization of online gambling rather than skill games.
Paul Goldean, CEO of POM, highlighted the significant benefits skill games provide to small businesses and nonprofits. The Senate committee did not reach a decision on SB 706, indicating that further deliberations will be necessary. The future of skill games in Pennsylvania remains uncertain, with ongoing legal battles and legislative debates shaping the landscape of the state’s gambling industry.