Sen. Gene Yaw Breaks Down Bill On Pennsylvania Skill Games Legislation

Written By Corey Sharp on March 21, 2024
Photo of Pennsylvania state senator Gene Yaw and the Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg. Sen. Gene Yaw shares his plan for regulating and taxing skill games in Pennsylvania, which differs from that of Governor Shapiro

Pennsylvania Senator Gene Yaw’s (R-23) has been one of the lone lawmakers who has been in favor of skill games since the beginning. Yaw (above) proposed Senate Bill 706, which is a comprehensive piece of legislation that regulates and taxes Pennsylvania skill games.

Yaw’s bill is different from what Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed in his FY 2024/2025 budget address last month. While both sides are on the same page with regulating skill games, each has a different method.

PlayPennsylvania spoke with Yaw last week about his bill and how to address the differences with Shapiro.

Sen. Yaw has different vision on PA skill games regulation

The Commonwealth Court handed Pennsylvania skill games a huge win when it ruled the machines as legal last December. Much to the dismay of the regulated industry, the games are likely to stay.

Gov. Shapiro further cemented skill games’ status after he included tax earnings from the machines in his upcoming FY budget address. However, Yaw and Shapiro are not seeing eye to eye on either the tax and regulatory framework of the games.

Shapiro has the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) overseeing the games, while Yaw has the Department of Revenue (DOR) in charge under Senate Bill 706. Yaw explained to PlayPennsylvania that the PGCB only has oversight on casino and internet-based gambling, as skill games would not fall under its purview.

He also said the push-back from casinos played a role in having the DOR regulate skill games. Yaw told PlayPennsylvania:

“One of the reasons, quite frankly, is the casinos have been so adamant about their opposition to skill games. Why would we ever let the entity that governs casinos also govern skill games? That makes no sense to me at all.”

While the regulation of skill games would be new to everyone in the state, the DOR would be a worthy candidate to do so. The DOR regulates the Pennsylvania Lottery.

“I hear very few complaints about the way they’ve operated the Pennsylvania Lottery,” Yaw said.

Why Sen. Yaw’s Pennsylvania skill games tax structure is different from Gov. Shapiro’s

Another big difference between Yaw and Shapiro is the tax structure of the games. Shapiro had a 42% tax rate in his budget, while Yaw cited a 16% tax in his proposal. Shapiro did not provide any insight behind his tax strategy during his FY budget speech last month.

Yaw explained to PlayPennsylvania that there is an education gap that exists between slot machines and skill games. There are few people that understand that skill games require hand-eye coordination to win, according to Yaw, which is a stark difference from slot machines.

“This came out in the court cases, even the Commonwealth witnesses said under the right circumstances, a player can win skill games every time,” Yaw said. “You can’t say that about slot machines because they’re pre-programmed.”

Yaw explained that his 16% tax is much lower than Shapiro’s because of several reasons, with one of them being players have control over the outcome. He also said that small businesses would benefit from a lower tax rate.

Keystone State casinos ‘should be supporting’ Yaw’s PA skill games legislation

Yaw admitted the perfect piece of legislation does not exist. However, his bill is extremely comprehensive.

Yaw told PlayPennsylvania that he’s against storefronts of mini-casinos or gaming parlors that possess several skill machines. Only an age-restricted sales business would be able to own up to five skill machines in an establishment.

Despite the Commonwealth Court’s ruling, the regulated gambling industry is still attempting to ban skill games. Claims over consumer protections and business lost, including PA online casinos, are reasons the industry wants them limited, at the least, if not prohibited.

However, Yaw explained that his bill helps casinos, and doesn’t understand why it is rejecting his bill. He said:

“One of the issues are the complaints from casinos that there are too many of these games out there. If there’s too many of them, our legislation will actually cut down the number and regulate them. It’s exactly what [casinos] say needs to be done. So the casino industry should be supporting this legislation, not opposing it.”

Because of the difference with Gov. Shapiro, Yaw said that the two parties will have to discuss each other’s vision and find common ground for a path forward.

Each has a common goal with drastically different ways about moving forward.

Photo by PlayPennsylvania
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Corey Sharp

Corey Sharp is the Lead Writer at PlayPennsylvania bringing you comprehensive coverage of sports betting and gambling in Pennsylvania. Corey is a 4-for-4 Philly sports fan and previously worked as a writer and editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer and NBC Sports Philadelphia.

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