Pennsylvania‘s crackdown on unlicensed gambling devices is slowly continuing. It follows a Jan. 21 court ruling, which lifted a ban on seizures of machines from one company, Pace-O-Matic (POM), of PA.
POM had asked a judge to continue a temporary order shielding its games, which the PA State Police and the attorney general consider illegal.
The judge denied that request, opening the way for the further seizure of PA skill games. However, she specified that POM’s games shouldn’t be explicitly or disproportionately targeted by authorities investigating illegal gambling.
The judge further noted another previous court ruling had deemed some of POM’s devices legal.
Device’s ultimate legality remains unclear
But she left the more important question raised by a recent conflicting court decision unanswered. That opinion found so-called skill games to be merely random chance devices, much like slot machines.
That means a final decision remains for another court or through legislation.
For now, there are several conflicting bills in the legislature, though none seems to have gained the needed traction to move forward. And it appears no pending court case will completely resolve the issue, though POM has sought additional clarification.
The state police have, meanwhile, resumed investigating unlicensed gambling machines.
Seizures of gambling devices have resumed
Estimates put the number of unlicensed machines at more than 15,000 and perhaps as many as 20,000 in the Commonwealth. They have no oversight and do not pay gambling revenue to the state. However, POM has lobbied for regulation oversight and revenue taxes.
Approximately 10,000 of the machines are POMs, assembled by Miele Manufacturing in Williamsport, PA. By comparison, casinos in the state house 24,000 licensed slot machines. The state heavily taxes and regulates them.
Police confiscated machines following last month’s ruling from two locations in the Wilkes-Barre area and two bars near Pittsburgh. Each seizure report from the PA police contains the following warning:
People and businesses engaging in illegal gambling do so at risk of criminal penalty and, in the case of licensed liquor establishments, additional administrative penalties under the liquor code.
None of the machines seized were described as POM devices, though reports do not generally specify the manufacturer. Some types of machines confiscated were identified as “coin pushers,” arcade-like games that POM does not manufacture.
A spokesperson for the PA State Police did not answer if any of the machines in the last round of seizures were from POM. He also declined additional comment, aside from providing the seizure reports.
“We are aware there have been some seizures,” said Mike Barley, a POM spokesman. “We have not heard of any targeting of POM machines.”
POM has a history of pushing back
POM has a history of cheekiness in the face of legal challenges.
In late January, the company congratulated the regulated gambling industry for record revenues despite the proliferation of their machines.
Their press release read:
“The fact the growth of legal skill games has coincided with record profits occurring at Pennsylvania casinos is proof-positive that our games are catering to different players and not affecting casino revenue.”
Likewise, the company hailed the recent adverse court ruling allowing seizures to resume as “a substantial victory … which makes clear our games are legal.”
And they have filed a civil suit against a rival company, claiming the other company’s devices are not skill games.
POM vice president doubles down in defending its games
After filing the civil suit, POM vice president Tom Marino told The Tribune-Democrat what set their machines apart from some competitors.
“The difference between our machine and a casino machine is you have to have the ability and skill to win on our machine, and when you acquire that, when you are able to do that, you can win 105% of what you bet.”
Marino also defended POM in a recent op-ed in PennLive. He explained that proceeds from the games support local fraternal organizations, pay for scholarships, buy firefighting equipment and underwrite historical projects.
Looking forward to the resolution of the legality question and welcoming more enforcement, Marino concluded:
“A lot is at stake as Pennsylvania lawmakers consider legislation on games of skill. People throughout the commonwealth stand to benefit. The proposed legislation will clarify existing law concerning the devices and help the commonwealth clean up the illegal device market by providing money for stricter enforcement, which includes more stringent penalties for violations. It also will generate significant tax revenue in the regulation of all skill games.”
Whether or not Marino and Pace-O-Matic get their wish for legal status remains to be seen as the tension continues to play out in PA.