What Legal Pennsylvania Skill Games Mean For Regulated Gambling Industry

Written By Corey Sharp on December 5, 2023 - Last Updated on April 10, 2024
Image of a judge's gavel for a story about a Commonwealth Court ruling in favor of Pennsylvania skill games last week.

The legality of Pennsylvania skill games, which has been dragged on for years, finally has some clarity. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court unanimously ruled that unregulated skill games within the state are legal games of skill.

Despite the Commonwealth Court siding in favor of skill games, it doesn’t mean the saga is over. The case could end up in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, or these games could become regulated at some point soon.

Members of the legal gaming industry, which many, if not all oppose skill games, must accept the fact that they will not be banned in any capacity right now. Remaining unregulated could continue to impact retail and PA online casinos.

Commonwealth Court rules Pennsylvania skill games are legal

The Commonwealth Court has made it clear that skill games will remain legal, despite the fact that the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office stated that the games are “clearly” slot machines. The court believes that the machines are games of skill and not chance.

The Commonwealth Court said in a court order:

“In light of our conclusion that the POM machines are not slot machines under the Crimes Code, we need not resolve this further dispute of the parties. Regardless of which interpretation is proper, because the POM machines are not slot machines, the POM machines are not illegal per se.”

Pace-O-Matic (POM), a Georgia-based skill games manufacturer, has been fighting the legality of its games since 2019. The Commonwealth Court determined that the state wrongfully seized skill game machines multiple times over the years.

POM President and CEO, Paul Goldean, said in a press release:

“This is a major victory for Pennsylvania Skill, but it’s equally a victory for our operators and the thousands of small businesses, volunteer fire companies, and fraternal clubs who have come to depend on the revenue our games provide. This is also a win for many players across the commonwealth who enjoy skill games as a popular entertainment option. Our games have always been legal, and this ruling proves that once and for all.”

The debate over the legality of skill games appears to be over for now. However, it’s possible the case can move up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. There’s also a chance that the games could be regulated, like under a tax framework proposed by Senator Gene Yaw (R-23).

Legal skill games impact on Pennsylvania gaming industry

The Commonwealth Court ruling in favor of skill games means that the regulated gaming industry, which includes the state’s retail and online casinos, must co-exist with them.

There has been strong opposition from members of the gaming industry. During a policy hearing held in August, PENN Entertainment VP of Public Affairs and Government Relations, Jeff Morris, called skill games an “unregulated, unmitigated disaster,” because of crime increase and lack of consumer protection.

There have been numerous casinos that have had to reduce slot machine counts because of skill games. Since the summer, the following facilities have gotten approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) to remove slot machines:

  • Harrah’s Philadelphia: 150
  • Mohegan Pennsylvania: 120
  • Hollywood Casino Morgantown: 30
  • Lady Luck Nemacolin: 19

During a PGCB meeting in September, Anthony Carlucci, President and General Manager of Mohegan Pennsylvania, cited skill games as a reason for the reduction. He told the PGCB:

“The skill games have proliferated and if you do a correlation between that and our volumes going down, there’s a direct correlation.”

While nobody can pinpoint the exact impact, skill games popping up in bars and clubs are causing Pennsylvania casinos to readjust their gaming floors with fewer machines.

And, of course, the more time people spend playing skill games, the less time they are playing regulated online casino titles. Online casino operators generated a record of $187.3 million in September revenue, and $186.9 million in October.

While there is still much to sort out, the Commonwealth Court has made it clear that Pennsylvania skill games are here to stay.

Photo by Shutterstock.com
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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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