PA Court Rules That Skill Games Lack Skill And Are Just Slot Machines

Posted on November 25, 2019 - Last Updated on November 26, 2019

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court confirmed in a ruling on Nov. 20 that video game machines manufactured and distributed by the company Pace-O-Matic (POM) under the name “Pennsylvania Skill” are considered slot machines under Pennsylvania law. However, Judge Patricia McCullough did not state that POM was in violation of the Gaming Act. Per her ruling, the law does not apply to unlicensed slot machines.

This is the latest decision in a lengthy battle within the Commonwealth over whether or not these skill-based games are legal.

POM had argued that their machines were a “game of skill” and therefore not a slot machine under PA law. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Revenue, and the City of Philadelphia are defendants in the lawsuit.

Surprisingly. Pace-O-Matic lawyer Matt Haverstick of Philadelphia-based law firm Kleinbard said they were “pleased” with the ruling. He added:

“We expect to have a trial or hearing just like in Beaver County where we demonstrate under the Crimes Code we are predominately skill. We are prepared to do it and look forward to putting on the case and are confident on how it is going to turn out. We have a legal machine and at least one court has upheld we are a legal machine. We expect soon we’re going get a bigger broader ruling that we are a legal machine.”

Seizure of skill game machines at heart of court case

On June, 8 2018, POM filed a petition for review seeking a judgment and injunctive relief. POM says that from March 2017 until June 2018, the City of Philadelphia conducted 11 separate seizures of machines. City law enforcement also arrested employees and seized funds at each location. POM alleges that the City’s seizures of the POM games was illegal. Additionally, POM contended the seizures interfered with the Department’s mission to fairly, efficiently, and accurately administer the tax laws and other revenue programs of the Commonwealth.

Parx calls to confiscate

Parx, which was not listed as a defendant in the case, called the ruling “a blow to illegal gambling and a victory for families and communities in Pennsylvania.”

However, Judge McCullough did not refer to Pennsylvania Skill games as “illegal gaming devices.”

Parx asserts that the Commonwealth Court’s clarification that “Pennsylvania Skill” games are “slot machines” under PA law provides clear legal jurisdiction for law enforcement at the state and local levels to confiscate the machines and prosecute those responsible for manufacturing, distributing, leasing or owning the machines.

Thomas C. Bonner, Chief Counsel for Parx Casino commented:

“We know that illegal slot machines and full-blown illegal casinos are popping up all over Pennsylvania. We know that minors are gambling, and we know that the state Lottery is losing tens of millions of dollars that should be going to our seniors because of these illegal machines. It’s time to confiscate these machines and put these illegal casinos out of business.”

A day after releasing the press release, Parx sent out a notice to disregard the news release.

Haverstick responded to Parx now-retracted press release with:

“We were puzzled when we saw Parx, a non-party, jump into the fray and then mangle the opinion. Parx embarrassed themselves. They are not doing any favor to the thousands of Pennsylvanians, the business owners who rely on it for revenue, the people who manufacture the games, or the people who play for entertainment. These are legal games.”

What’s next?

Pennsylvania Skill machines are usually found at bars, social clubs, and corner stores. Don’t expect them to immediately disappear overnight.

A Beaver County court deemed Pennsylvania Skill Games legal in a 2014 decision. Since then, there have been a number of House Gaming Oversight Committee Public Hearings debating their legality. The Pennsylvania Lottery also waged a very public campaign to push to explicitly outlaw the machines with new legislation.

Here’s what Haverstick said is next for POM:

“We expect to have a trial or hearing just like in Beaver County where we demonstrate under the Crimes Code we are predominate skill. We are prepared to do it and look forward to putting on the case and are confident on how it is going to turn out. We have a legal machine and at least one court has upheld we are a legal machine. We expect soon we’re going get a bigger broader ruling that we are a legal machine.”

If the past is any indication, there will be more days in court for POM who will fight to keep their machines operating as usual.

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Katie Kohler

Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia-area based award-winning journalist. She covers the Pennsylvania gambling industry with an emphasis on sports betting, online casino/poker and the lottery.

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