Pennsylvania skill games have been running rampant across the state for the last several years. However, it’s possible that their time is coming to an end in the Keystone State.
The fate of skill games will be left up to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. It could go down in a similar way to Virginia, which banned skill games again earlier this month.
While difficult to determine the severity, skill games have impacted PA casinos online, as well as retail locations throughout the state.
Virginia Supreme Court banned skill games earlier this month
The Virginia Supreme Court overruled the lower courts in the Old Dominion State in a surprise move earlier in October.
Virginia had already signed into law the ban of skill games in 2020, but former Gov. Ralph Northam delayed this for a year to help the state raise money for pandemic relief.
After the ban took effect in 2021, another lawsuit occurred which resulted in the lower courts allowing games already registered with the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority to remain in operation until the issue is resolved. The lower courts ruled that banning skill games is a violation of free speech.
The Virginia Supreme Court did not see it that way. It said that the lower court abused its discretion. According to the Associated Press, a group of three Virginia Supreme Court judges said in a court order:
“Although at times it is difficult to determine where a particular activity falls on the speech/conduct continuum, no such difficulty is present when the activity being regulated is gambling. We long have viewed gambling as conduct that may be heavily regulated and even banned by the Commonwealth as an exercise of its police powers.”
It’s possible Pennsylvania takes similar action soon. However, it is not up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Similarities between Virginia and Pennsylvania skill games case
There are similarities between the two states in how skill games have been legally handled.
In both states, the lower courts have ruled in favor of these games in multiple instances, especially in Pennsylvania. There have been at least three cases since 2019 where the Commonwealth Court has sided with Pace-O-Matic (POM), a manufacturer of skill game machines.
The only difference, so far, is that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on the decision. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), six PA casinos and the Department of Revenue (DOR) are opposing POM in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.
However, it’s possible that the top court reverses course on these earlier decisions and bans skill games.
Last month, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office submitted a brief saying that the games are in fact slot machines, and not “games of skill.”
While the AG office quoted what a slot machine is from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, it also pleaded with the “superior” to join in on the ruling:
“To the extent that the phrase ‘slot machine’ in the Crimes Code requires further clarification, this Court should join the Superior Court in concluding that the Crimes Code and the Gaming Act should be read together.”
Skill games take business away from PA online casinos and retail locations
Members of the regulated gaming industry wish skill games to be banned completely. During a policy hearing in August, Penn Entertainment VP of Public Affairs and Government Relations, Jeff Morris, provided a strong testimony to ban skill games. Morris called skill games an “unregulated, unmitigated disaster,” and cited no consumer protections, increased crime in the counties that carry them and losses in casino revenue.
On a national scale, American Gaming Association (AGA) President and CEO, Bill Miller, said in a study released in August:
“Unregulated machine manufacturers have built their businesses by duping consumers and small businesses while avoiding taxes, oversight and consumer protections. These results are further evidence that Americans see these machines as a threat that should be eliminated, not regulated.”
The other option for skill games is to regulate them. Senator Gene Yaw (R-23) has proposed a tax structure that would move skill games into the regulated industry. Should the Supreme Court rule that way, the PGCB requested that skill games be regulated under its jurisdiction.
It does appear that momentum has picked up to ban skill games. Should the Pennsylvania Supreme Court disallow them, it would have followed the Virginia model almost to a T.