Pennsylvania skill games have operated in a gray area for years. In a briefing from the Pennsylvania Attorney General‘s office, the momentum to ban skill games is picking up steam.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office submitted a legal brief this week that said skill games are slot machines. The brief was submitted in preparation for a Commonwealth Court trial that will be held in Pittsburgh on Oct. 11 regarding the appeals of two return of property cases for Pace-O-Matic (POM), a manufacturer of skill game machines, from March 2023.
This is the first time skill games have been ruled or briefed against in any legal setting in Pennsylvania. As the decision to ban skill games rests in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, this is certainly a win for the regulated industry, including Pennsylvania casinos and PA online casinos, both of which lose customers to skill game machines.
Seized PA skill games in Dauphin County are considered slot machines
Three PA skill game machines were confiscated in a Dauphin County appeal, along with $525, in March 2023.
On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office submitted a brief saying that the games are in fact slot machines, and not “games of skill.” The office said in a briefing:
“Merriam-Webster defines a slot machine as ‘an originally coin-operated gambling machine that pays off according to the matching of symbols on wheels spun by a handle; also: an electronic version of this machine.’ The seized devices here are clearly ‘slot machines’ under this unambiguous definition.”
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office, does not have the authority to ban skill games, as the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court is hearing the case. Though the AG’s office lacks the authority, it pitched the higher court to join in on the ruling:
“To the extent that the phrase ‘slot machine’ in the Crimes Code requires further clarification,” the brief reads, “this Court should join the Superior Court in concluding that the Crimes Code and the Gaming Act should be read together.”
The Attorney General’s office cited other instances in which the Supreme Court read the Crimes Code and the Gaming Act together.
In the conclusion of the filing, the Attorney General’s office said:
“This Court is presented with two legal questions. If the Court finds for the Commonwealth on either point, the trial court’s decision should be reversed and the lower court be directed to grant the Petition for Forfeiture.”
Previous PA skill games court cases
There have been numerous times where POM has won court cases at the Commonwealth level.
There have been other instances where the court has ruled in favor of skill games, too. In separate raids in 2019 and 2020 in Luzerne County, the court ordered the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement (BLCE) to return skill games and cash to Pinnacle, another skill games manufacturer.
There have been additional attempts to seize POM machines. A Clearfield County court order mandated that skill machines be returned to POM in May 2022.
POM spokesman Mike Barley made the following statement in February, even requesting for additional regulation:
“Every time the legality of our skill games has been called into question, the legal status of our games has been upheld by the judiciary. Pace-O-Matic stands out among our competitors as the active and driving force seeking additional regulation and taxation. We remain steadfast in our commitment to working with the state General Assembly. And asking for legislation providing additional regulation and increased tax money for the state.”
After a Pennsylvania Senate conducted a policy hearing last month, it appears the decision could go either way. However, banning skill games altogether is picking up momentum.
PA Commonwealth Court has final say on what happens with skill games
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court will provide the ultimate ruling on the legality of skill games. The state has three options:
- Keep them unregulated
- Regulate skill games with tax structure
- Ban skill games altogether
It is extremely unlikely that skill games will remain unregulated. There is a tax structure in place that Senator Gene Yaw (R-23) has proposed. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) requested the games to be regulated under its jurisdiction. That is if should the Supreme Court rule that way.
While there is no timetable, a decision does appear to be nearing.