As Pennsylvania skill games have proliferated across the state, so have the calls for problem gambling. The Council on Compulsive Gambling of PA (CCGP), a nonprofit designed to provide resources to help problem gamblers, is reporting an uptick in calls involving skill games being identified as a type of problem gambling.
The games are not regulated within the industry, but have been deemed legal by the Commonwealth Court in a decision last week. While the machines are here to stay, the CCGP is worried about the lack of consumer protections around them as calls are increasing.
Pennsylvania skill games assist in increasing problem gambling calls
Pennsylvania is a robust gaming state with sports betting, online casinos and retail casinos that are all regulated under the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB). Skill games are another category of gaming that has expanded over the years. It has come under heavy scrutiny because it is not regulated under the PGCB.
The machines operate similar to slots, but are placed in establishments such as bars, restaurants and convenience stores. The American Gaming Association (AGA) reported around 67,000 skill machines statewide as of November 2022. That number has likely increased since.
The CCGP started tracking calls for responsible gambling in Pennsylvania from those expressing a problem regarding skill games. Here are the results since January 2021:
- 2021: 79
- 2022: 102
- 2023 (through October): 110
The CCPG is on pace for 132 calls this year, which is a gradual increase from the previous two years. CCPG Executive Director, Josh Ercole, shared these statistics with PlayPennsylvania and said:
“Even though these aren’t huge numbers, it probably represents a fraction of the folks out there struggling from the availability of skill games. We’re not throwing out the panic flag, but we do feel like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
It’s a fact that the more gaming options available for players, the likelihood of more people developing a gambling problem increases.
CCPG’s consumer protection concerns over PA skill games
The CCPG has a neutral stance on gambling. However, as an organization, it educates and provides resources for those experiencing problem gambling behaviors.
Despite having a neutral point of view, the CCPG is worried about the lack of consumer protections, especially since the Commonwealth Court recently ruled that skill games are legal.
The CCPG is not the only organization that has expressed consumer protection concerns. PGCB Chair, Denise Smyler, addressed her unease back in April. PENN Entertainment VP of Public Affairs and Government Relations, Jeff Morris, shared similar sentiments during a policy hearing in August.
Senator Gene Yaw (R-23) has been the most vocal legislator in wanting the games to be regulated. He even proposed a tax framework that could generate an estimated $300 million in tax revenue. However, Senate Bill 706 does not have anything written about consumer protection. Ercole told PlayPennsylvania that the CCPG has been in contact with Yaw’s team regarding consumer protections.
The fact that these machines are not placed in a regulatory environment makes it harder for problem gambling measures to be enforced and tracked.
“I think the fact that there’s no centralized database and it’s all cash only machines with no oversight, that’s what’s really dangerous about it,” Ercole said. “It would help if there was some sort of centrally located database where they track players’ involvement or get a players’ card where activity can be tracked and limits could be set on an account.”
Should skill games be regulated at some point in the future, there’s a possibility that the tax revenue generated could create players’ cards, self-exclusion and more protections for players.
As of now, many players are left on their own, whether the games are regulated or not.