Note: This is a developing story and will be updated as additional information is released.
Philadelphia City Council is considering an ordinance to ban “skill games” that populate many convenience stores throughout Philadelphia.
Councilmember Curtis Jones, the main sponsor of the Bill which includes eight co-sponsors, added an amendment to Title 9 of the Philadelphia Code by adding Prohibition on Certain Gambling Machines and Skills Games to:
“Prohibit the operation of any casino-style or skill game that accepts cash payment for the chance of a cash reward and is not otherwise regulated by the State of Pennsylvania, all under certain terms and conditions.”
The ordinance was referred to Council’s Committee on Public Safety which held a hearing on the bill in December. PlayPennsylvania has not been able to confirm when the full chamber can expect a vote. If passed, it would go into effect immediately.
Philadelphia addresses Skill games
Councilmember Curtis Jones (D-4th District of Philadelphia) said the “bandit machines” are plaguing communities and leading to crime around businesses that offer them.
In Jan. 2021, stores in northeast Philadelphia with skill game machines were the target of sledgehammer-wielding thieves.
Philadelphia Police Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum commented to 6ABC:
“We have about two dozen jobs since October (2021). Some of the stores have been hit multiple times.”
In Nov. 2021, a man playing on a gambling machine in Kensington was shot and killed.
Pennsylvania Skill games developer snaps back
Pace-O-Matic, the developer of skill games, immediately responded to the proposed ordinance.
POM says restaurants, bars, clubs and veteran’s organizations with Pennsylvania Skill games powered by Pace-O-Matic would not be impacted should Philadelphia City Council vote to pass the ordinance.
Mike Barley, spokesman for Pennsylvania Skill said in a press release:
“We support City Council’s actions that crackdown on illegal games that have sprung up around Philadelphia. These games purport to be games of skill, but they’re not, they are pure gambling. They are VGTs.”
In addition, Barley said Pennsylvania Skill is filing an amended complaint in the Commonwealth Court against the City of Philadelphia because it believes City Council intended the ban to target the legal skill game industry and Pennsylvania Skill.
Barley argued there is no connection between legal skill games and crime in the city.
“Looking at city crime data, we find no connection whatsoever with our games. Any assertions counter to that are just not true. We have worked with law enforcement in the past because we want to continue to be good community partners.”
What are Pennsylvania skill games?
Pennsylvania Skill games look a lot like slot machines. They have touchscreens, you insert your money and select the game you want to play.
Pace-O-Matic develops the skill games. (i.e: EA Sports develops Madden 2022, Pace-O-Matic produces the games that Pennsylvania Skill offers.) Williamsport, PA-based Miele Manufacturing is the exclusive distributor of Pace-O-Matic Pennsylvania Skill Games. Miele Manufacturing is located in the legislative district of Yaw and Wheeland.
Are skill games legal in PA?
In 2014, the Beaver County Court of Common Pleas ruled Pennsylvania Skill games powered by Pace-O-Matic are legal. They returned to court various times, but no ruling yet deemed the games illegal.
Pennsylvania skill games ongoing drama
If a streaming service is looking for its next multi-part documentary, it might want to consider centering a series about the drama around the proliferation of unregulated and untaxed skill games across PA.
In the past year, some Pennsylvania casinos have reduced the number of slot machines and said one of the reasons was unregulated games of skill. Pennsylvania casinos are subject to the highest effective tax rate in the country.
Senator Gene Yaw introduced legislation in Nov. 2021 that would tax skill games.
What they say about Pennsylvania skill games
Whether they are “gray machines” or “games of skill,” it gets a strong response. Here are some of them.
Cyrus Pitre, Chief Enforcement Counsel at Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board:
“The only difference between a slot machine and a skill game is that a slot machine is regulated by the Board. A skill game is put out there willy nilly by anyone in the public to operate. There’s no protections and nothing to benefit the state from these machines. This board has a duty to protect the public and the industry it helped create to ensure the operation of any gaming activity is regulated and licensed.”
Senator Yaw says they help small businesses:
“If you want to know why legal video skill games are important, all you have to do is walk into any market in Western Pennsylvania, family owned restaurant, VFW or bar,” said Yaw. “They are allowing these businesses to provide health insurance for their workers, increased salaries, and in some cases, keeping the doors open.”
Peter Shelly, a spokesperson for Pennsylvanians Against Illegal Gambling (PAIG), commented to PlayPennsylvania:
“There is no question that skill games are illegal no matter who manufactures them. To suggest the (Pennsylvania) Lottery isn’t losing millions of dollars defies the state’s data and is ludicrous. Skill games are impacting the Lottery and programs the lottery benefits. There is is a reason the Office of Attorney General and Pennsylvania State Police keep confiscating these machines, they are illegal.”
Lead image c/o Pennsylvania State Police