Pennsylvania Lawmakers Put Gray Machines Under Scrutiny

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Guests play slot machines. Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP.

Are they games of skill or chance? That’s one question among many that Pennsylvania legislators are asking in addition to whether or not they should be outlawed or regulated.

Gray Market or Black Market?

The gray market machines dotting the landscape of truck stops, convenience stores, and taverns throughout the Keystone State are the subject of intense scrutiny.

They are called skill games by their manufacturers because although they resemble slot machines, according to them, they are not games of chance and therefore do not fall under the same gambling guidelines, as other Pennsylvania casino games.

However, many would differ with that assessment, chief among them are the casino operators who are highly regulated and scrutinized by the government agencies charged with overseeing them.

The “skill” machines require one of several icons to be selected by the player, one of which is the winner, appearing on the screen which means someone could theoretically win repeatedly unlike slot machines where some spins win and others lose. A true game of chance.

Legal Gray Area Sparks Debate

Where skill comes into play is a murky topic, as it appears skill games are more of a guessing game, which makes the gray machines’ legality suspect. However, they are not technically outlawed although some local governments have vowed a crackdown.

Yet, the Commonwealth Court has ruled that the games are legal and those businesses that house them receive a percentage of the profits without any risk or maintenance involved which means the business owners are natural advocates.

Nevertheless, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) continues to deliberate and is working towards either declaring them illegal or demanding they come under the same scrutiny and regulatory protocols as the slot machines found in the state’s casinos.

What’s Next?

A hearing on the skill games was recently convened and Senator Katie Muth, chair of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Policy Committee, issued a statement on the Pennsylvania Senate’s website that said:

“The issue of skill games in Pennsylvania is a complicated topic and we really need to be thoughtful and consider all perspectives on this issue – law enforcement and gaming regulators, but also that of small business owners and our VFWs that rely on these machines for revenue.”

And it is the owners of those small businesses who will have their say at the ballot boxes if the gray machines are outlawed, terminating a revenue source for those concerns.

AGA Report and State Senator’s Concerns

The American Gaming Association (AGA), a lobbying group for the casino industry, determined that 61% of gambling machines are unregulated in Pennsylvania.

And when we consider that there are nearly 26,000 slot machines nestled inside casinos and other regulated gambling establishments in the state then we get an idea of just how prolific in number are the gray machines.

State Senator Amanda Cappelletti said, “Any expansion of the gaming industry in the Commonwealth is cause for skepticism and requires thoughtful action. The alarming rate at which these so-called ‘skill games’ are growing in prevalence demands a response.”

One of the largest manufacturers of these games, Pace-O-Matic, has prevailed in court on three occasions in regards to this issue but now it has landed in the state’s Supreme Court which has granted a review of the appeal of the previous decision in the lower court.

*Bookmaker’s Review will continue to monitor this story and update our readers as events unfold.