Remember that lawsuit Pennsylvania casinos filed against the PA Lottery over PA online lottery games last year? The case went nearly a year with no progress, but it is finally rearing its head again.
Penn Live reports that the casinos in the suit are seeking an injunction to block at least nine of the 39 online instant game titles offered on the Pennsylvania Lottery’s website. According to the casinos, these games are more than just similar to slot machines — they are the exact titles. Not only that, but they are operating with different parameters that are more lenient than casinos, such as the standard return-to-player rate and the tax rate.
Now that this new motion is filed, expect progress on a ruling of whether or not these online lottery games are playing by the rules.
Casinos see iLottery as unfair competition
In July, shortly after the PA iLottery launched, casinos quickly voiced their displeasure about the offering. More specifically, they pointed to Act 42 of the gambling expansion law as a reason why these instant games were running afoul of the law. Per the act, online lottery:
“[Do] not include games that represent physical, Internet-based or monitor-based interactive lottery games which simulate casino-style lottery games, specifically including poker, Roulette, slot machines and Blackjack.”
While the casinos cite Act 42 as the reason the online lottery games are invading their turf. However, the PA Lottery sees this language as exactly what protects them. When asked for comment, a PA Lottery spokesperson told PlayPennsylvania:
“Act 42 of 2017 authorized the launch of PA iLottery and the games are being operated in accordance with the law. We are working every day to ensure the Pennsylvania Lottery continues to fulfill its mission of responsibly generating profits for senior programs.”
With the two parties at an impasse, it seems like the courts are going to be the deciding factor on how this battle ends.
How online lottery games work
If you are not familiar with instant lottery games, they are effectively online scratch-off tickets. In most games, you simply click squares to reveal symbols. Like a scratch-off, if you match a certain number of symbols, you win.
Some games go beyond the basic reveal formula though. Several titles offer more gameplay, like Cash Buster Extreme. The game is animated, so the player does not click on squares to reveal prizes. Rather they click “play” and watch what happens. Players earn prizes when a wall of blocks produces five or more connected blocks of the same color.
Another element to Cash Buster Extreme that the casinos take issue with is that, like slots, there are triggerable bonus games. In Cash Buster Extreme, if your card produces six sets of connected blocks, you get to play one of two bonus games.
Additionally, if you collect three connected “free go” symbols, you can unlock a game that awards you between one to six free gos, which is essentially a free play. For the casinos, this bears a strong resemblance to slot machines and their free spin offers.
It is important to note too that the supplier of these games, Scientific Games, is also a slot machine provider, blurring the lines between the two even further.
In the immediate future, the first step is the court will rule on the injunction. If the court decides to shut down the online lottery games temporarily, that is not the same as a court decision in the casinos’ favor.
Rather, the injunction pushes the issue at the heart of the pending lawsuit. As Penn Live reported, the online lottery is a $30 million a year industry. If it gets shut down, presumably the group will push for swift action and a final decision from the court.
Meanwhile, PA casinos are preparing to launch their online casino product on July 15. With that date coming up, this threat from lottery games is no longer theoretical. They want to launch successfully and they want to do so without what they think is unfair competition already on the market.