GAMBLING

Pennsylvania Skill Games Ruling Appealed to State Supreme Court

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Posted on: January 4, 2024, 09:43h. 

Last updated on: January 4, 2024, 10:08h.

Last month’s landmark ruling that provided legal footing for Pennsylvania skill games has been appealed to the state’s Supreme Court.

Pennsylvania skill games casino gambling
A tobacco shop in Muncy, Pa., advertises Pennsylvania Skill machines. The machines gained a major legal victory in December, but their legality is being further contested by Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry. (Image: Smokers Square)

In December, a Commonwealth Court affirmed a ruling from the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas that ordered several machines branded Pennsylvania Skill seized by state law enforcement to be returned to the host business. The ruling determined that skill gaming doesn’t constitute illegal gambling and, therefore, the Pennsylvania State Police had no legal right to confiscate the machines.

Commonwealth and county judges concluded that simply because a machine “involves a large element of chance” does not predetermine the device to be a gambling apparatus. Proponents of the terminals that have flooded restaurants and bars throughout the state argue there’s a considerable skill element to the gameplay because players must identify winning payline combinations in a limited amount of time.

It’s a landmark decision of indisputable statewide application,” declared Matthew Haverstick, attorney for Pace-O-Matic (POM), the industry leader in Pennsylvania. “These games are legal.”

Pennsylvania Skill games, which are also found in retail stores, gas stations, and grocery stores, are run by software produced by Georgia-based POM. The machines are assembled in Pennsylvania by Miele Manufacturing.

Appeal Made

Immediately after the Commonwealth Court’s unanimous 7-0 ruling finding that skill games don’t violate the state’s Gaming Act, Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry said she would appeal the case to the state’s highest court. Many of the state’s 17 land-based casinos said they’d also ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review the matter.

A regulated slot machine delivers more than half of its net proceeds to the state in the form of taxes. A skill machine generates no state or local tax benefit. Casino slots are also regulated for fair play, something skill games are not.

In her appeal, Henry says the court’s rulings present dangerous consequences for consumers and the state’s gaming industry, which is one of the richest along with Nevada and New Jersey.

“Under this Court’s precedent, if it acts like a slot machine and operates like a slot machine, it’s a slot machine. The Commonwealth accordingly seeks review,” Henry pleaded.

Casino Submit Commentary

The casinos claim the unregulated and untaxed skill games are poaching business from their gaming floors. They contest that many players who would otherwise visit their casinos to gamble are finding gaming machines closer to home in their corner bar or local convenience store.

The Commonwealth Court’s ruling opens the floodgates for unlicensed, unregulated, unlawful slot machines to dominate Pennsylvania’s gaming landscape in a manner the General Assembly sought to prevent. Under the guise of constituting so-called ‘skill’ games — when they are anything but — the Commonwealth Court allowed the POM machines to skirt the Crimes Code to effectively displace legal, taxed, highly-regulated gaming across Pennsylvania,” attorneys representing 11 of the state’s 17 physical casinos wrote in submitted testimony.

Several casinos in recent years have petitioned the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to reduce their number of slot machines. The casinos say demand has waned partly because of the skill games.

Harrah’s Philadelphia, for example, removed 563 slots in 2021.

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