PA Commonwealth Court rules games of skill are legal

December 1 – An ongoing battle between a Georgia gaming company called Pace-O-Matic and the PA Lottery has come to a conclusion this week with a Commonwealth Court decision. 

Pace-O-Matic provides machines to area businesses that allow people to win money for playing skill games. 

The PA Lottery contended that these games actually take revenue away from the state because people use the money they would have spent on the lottery to play these games. 

The machines can be found in a number of area gas stations and convenience stores all over the state. 

Yesterday, a Commonwealth Court said the skill games are legal because they are not a lottery – there is a degree of skill needed to win. 

Attorney Clint Barkdoll pointed out, “The Commonwealth Court ruled…that the State Liquor Control Board has no right to regulate or seize them. These things are popping up everywhere. I saw just last week a game of skill parlor, it’s almost like a mini casino that’s going to be opening in this area. Now based on this Commonwealth Court decision, it’s fair game. You can have as many of these and do whatever you’re doing with these devices. The General Assembly has to get engaged on this issue. This came up at our legislative breakfast back in October. There was a lot of commentary from the legislators about it.”

The state is saying they intend to appeal this to the PA Supreme Court, so the battle might not be over just yet. 

Barkdoll said, “But this is a big issue and it’s becoming bigger all the time.”

PA Representative Paul Schemel said, “I think that you’re sort of in between a wedge on this where there’s a hole in the law. There have been people moving to expand the games of chance and there’s conflict with that with the skill games, which some people say are really games of chance and who can have them. We see some of the places like vape shops and so forth getting a bunch of the skill games. So it’s a dynamic thing right now. I’m not sure where it will turn out. We’ll be back in session not next week, the week after. I expect this to be a big subject because there’s definitely going to be a lot of legislators who want to try to find a way to rein this in.”

Ryan suggested, “And find money. I don’t know how much reining in or whether there’s an opportunity to find some more revenue for the state. I don’t know what kind of money they make from the machines in the first place.”

Jansen said, “I’ve heard quite a bit is possible for the people who put them in because obviously you see them tucked away in convenience stores.” 

Schemel said, “The stores that put them or the bars and so forth, they do make a fair amount of money and that’s been part of the conflict. So as you know for whatever reason, particularly in Western Pennsylvania, a lot of these games have been present, like video gaming machines, and other things like that, or just using the conventional games of chance like pull tabs in an unregulated way for a long time. So other bar owners have been complaining that the state hasn’t been cracking down on them. They’ve been making a lot of money, the state misses out on the revenue. I know that in the legislature, we’ve been looking at various fixes for a while.”

Jansen added, “Obviously casinos and places that are following regulations set forth for them and the money being distributed out the way it’s supposed to be, are very upset that these little places can offer these kinds of games.”

Schemel said, “Casinos have always been a threat to your local VFW to be a threat and here’s why. I mean there’s actually a not insignificant number of people that have some, let’s just be candid, kind of a gambling addiction and whether they are gambling at the local VFW using small games of chance or gambling at the casino, they don’t really care so much about the game itself. So to that kind of a customer which brings in the public policy, so you can certainly bring in public money from things like that, but what is the damage that it does to society for the people to get hooked on it, which is not an insignificant number of people. There’s a cost to society and to the state for that as well and there’s definitely a cost to families.”

Jansen noted, “My favorite thing right now is there is no right answer. There’s only trade offs and we have to look at what are the best trade offs we can attempt to find.”

Schemel agreed, “There are, but with a lot of things I mean, I’m a public policy maker. I try to make policy or I think about policy in the state that is best for people and that’s not always what raises the most money. I get a lot of people who say oh, you’re going to raise so much money by this or that. But what is actually best for people?”

Jansen said, “It’s your trade off. You might get money, but you might be harming society so much.”

Schemel said, “And that violates the Do No Harm principle.”