PA State Police Crackdown On Illegal Gambling Devices In Full Effect

Posted on March 3, 2020

The Pennsylvania State Police are back to seizing unauthorized and untaxed gambling devices and their proceeds from across the state, after a temporary pause during a legal challenge.

Between January 22 and February 25, 2020, authorities confiscated 71 gambling machines, including 65 video gambling devices, from 17 liquor establishments.

Gambling devices seized across the Commonwealth

Seizures dot the map of PA. In the Erie area in the Northwest, police took six devices. The Pittsburgh region in the West had 13 uprooted.

The Philadelphia area in the Southeast topped the list with 16. Police took 13 devices in the Northeast near Wilkes-Barre and Williamsport. Here you can see the districts with number of devices seized between Jan. 22 and Feb. 25.

Police DistrictNumber of Devices Seized
PHILADELPHIA16
PITTSBURGH13
PUNXSUTAWNEY12
WILLIAMSPORT8
ERIE6
ALLENTOWN5
ALTOONA5
WILKES-BARRE5
HARRISBURG1
Total Seized71

VICTIM: Society, according to State Police

Accord to police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski, some seizures included gambling devices marketed as “skill machines.”

Many of the individual seizure reports read precisely the same way.

In a box spelling out what the PA State Police sees as the harm, many read, VICTIM: Society.

Captain Jeffrey Rineer, acting director of the liquor enforcement unit for the PA SP summed up:

“Illegal, unregulated gambling is a serious – and growing – problem facing the commonwealth, with video gambling devices spreading beyond licensed liquor establishments into convenience stores, malls, and restaurants. So far in 2020, gambling machine seizures have been reported from every office.”

More than $115,000 was seized and is subject to forfeiture, along with the devices.

Additionally, those involved risk criminal prosecution. And licensed liquor establishments are subject to administrative penalties under the liquor code. That includes the possibility of license suspension or seizure.

POM takes offense, defends legality of “skill games”

Pennsylvania Skill is a brand from the Pace-O-Matic company of Williamsport, PA.

POM recently lost an attempt to enjoin the court to protect their “skill games” machines while broader legal issues work their way through the state court system. At issue is if the games are subject to regulation, licensing, and taxation – or not.

POM has gone so far as to contend in civil court that while their games are legal, another manufacturer’s are not.

A spokesman for POM, Michael Barley, took issue with seizures of games made by his company:

Though we applaud the Pennsylvania State Police for seizing games that are clearly illegal and have no judicial support, we are disheartened in the fact that the Pennsylvania State Police has used this opportunity to continue to harass Pennsylvania Skill who have the only adjudicated/legal game in the Commonwealth.

Through their comments and actions, the Pennsylvania State Police have desperately tried to tie our legal, court adjudicated Pennsylvania Skill games to those manufacturers operating illegal gambling devices.

Conflicting legal rulings, growing opposition

Conflicting court rulings about the nature of POM’s devices – whether they are merely random outcome slot machines or based on skill – have created a gray area not fully explored yet in the court system or the state Legislature.

Recently, a court ruling opened the way for resumption of police seizures. Also, multiple gaming organizations united to lobby against the spread of unauthorized gaming machines in the Commonwealth.

Even the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board  (PGCB) finally weighed in by joining the ongoing court battle and formally calling the machines illegal.

With those developments, the red light previously holding back enforcement is now yellow, if not yet bright green. And the State Police are seizing the opportunity.

Officials claim the gambling devices are hurting lottery revenue

Further opposition to illegal gaming devices has come from PA officials who are concerned unregulated and untaxed gambling devices will cut into PA state lottery revenues earmarked for senior citizen programs.

A spokesperson for the lottery last week told told KYW Newsradio in Philadelphia that a year ago, just 8% of its lottery agents had gambling devices as well as lottery terminals. This year it is 25%, and that’s cutting into lottery revenue.

Last month during Legislative hearings, PA Lottery executive director Drew Svitko told lawmakers skill games could lead to a $200 million decline in scratch-off ticket sales this year. That is a more significant loss than the $115 million hit last year, PennLive reported.

“Those skill machines are absolutely having an effect on the lottery,” Svitko testified.

Last year lottery ticket sales generated $1.14 billion. The Lottery Fund helps pay for older Pennsylvanians’ property tax and rent rebates, transportation, prescriptions, and local agencies on aging.

There is disagreement on a path forward. Some lawmakers propose creating regulations and taxing the devices. Other lawmakers are pushing for heightened enforcement. For now, none of these machines are safe from seizure.

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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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