Injunction Denied: Latest Round In PA Skill Games Fight Goes To The State

Posted on January 21, 2020

A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge ruled Tuesday morning against a preliminary injunction that would have continued to prevent PA State Police from seizing more “skill game” machines. The ruling followed a hearing last Wednesday, where several key stakeholders made their positions heard.

That means police can resume seizing Pennsylvania skill games and the money they contain. A spokesman for the police said he is preparing a formal statement.

Ryan Tarkowski, a spokesman for the State Police, said:

Today’s decision to deny the injunction sought by Pace-O-Matic (POM) affirms PSP’s right to seize POM devices and equipment as part of the department’s ongoing efforts to fight illegal gambling in Pennsylvania.

Illegal, unregulated gambling devices are prevalent in the commonwealth, and they put consumers at risk. The Pennsylvania State Police is committed it fair and thorough investigations and enforcement action against people and businesses engaged in illegal gambling activity.

Pace-O-Matic attempts to protect the existence of its machines

Pace-O-Matic (POM), of PA, asked to continue the order shielding its games from seizure by state police. POM’s emergency application for a preliminary injunction was denied Tuesday. The ruling stated:

After careful consideration, this court finds that POM has not met its burden of proving that the injunction is necessary to preserve the status quo, that the injunction is reasonably suited to abate the offending activity, or that the injunction will not adversely affect the public interest.

Miele Manufacturing, of Williamsport, which is the distributor of the machines in PA, issued a release completely ignoring the denial of its injunction request.

Instead, the company emphasized brief passages written by Judge Ellen Ceisler, which acknowledged that the more significant issue of the legality of the skill games — and distinctions between POM skill games and other skill game makers — remains open.

In a twist, POM has an ongoing civil court case alleging a rival’s game is not a skill game at all.

Pace-O-Matic Director of Communications Mike Barley said:

We understand the confusion that exists as law enforcement has a difficult time discerning between what is a legal skill game and what is an illegal gambling device. Our commitment is to continue working with the legislature to regulate, tax and provide strict enforcement of the legal skill game industry. The revenue we are providing to small businesses and fraternal clubs, the jobs that are being created and the tens of millions of dollars we have paid in taxes to the state prove that we are laying a solid foundation for the legal skill game industry that benefits Pennsylvania.

No shortage of opposition to PA skill games

The more significant issue of the legitimacy of the games remains. Whether they are skill games or chance games like slots will likely be decided in a future court action.

State law enforcement authorities and other staunch opponents have said they believe the machines are illegal.

In advance of last week’s hearing, Gov. Tom Wolf made it clear PA will work to have the games declared illegal:

The administration believes Pennsylvania must take a hardline on illegal gambling, including so-called ‘games of skill’ and other slot machines. These machines are illegal, unregulated and put senior programs at risk by siphoning revenue from the Lottery.

The organization, Pennsylvanians Against Illegal Gambling, is a vocal opponent of PA skill games. Peter J. Shelly, a spokesman for that organization, applauded Tuesday’s court ruling in a statement:

The order is good news for Pennsylvanians across the state who do not want illegal gambling taking place in pizza parlors, gas stations and convenience stores in their communities. We are hopeful that PA State Police will start confiscating the 15,000 illegal machines that are now in operation across the state.

Question of skill games legality remains unsettled

There are 24,000 slot machines in Pennsylvania’s casinos.

But there is an untold number, perhaps as many as 20,000 unregulated devices labeled “skill games.”  The machines reside in gas stations, convenience stores, fraternal organizations, pizza shops, and even strip mall arcades.

Pace-O-Matic accounts for about half of the skill games, or about 10,000 of the devices in PA. Miele makes and distributes the finished machines using software from a Georgia company. There are also perhaps four or five rival distributors in PA.

There are two conflicting court rulings about the legality of these games. Last November, a court ruled they are illegal. But a Beaver County court had deemed Pennsylvania skill games from POM as legal in a 2014 decision.

This latest round appears to have gone to those against POM and the existence of skill games in PA. We will continue to provide updates as further rounds in this battle ensue.

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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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