HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania skills games are slot machine-like devices that have sprouted up across the Commonwealth in recent years. However, they have mostly operated in legal limbo.
Police departments have tried to seize them, but the courts stopped those seizures. Now, there’s a push to legalize and tax them.
Former Penn State football star LaVar Arrington is now a pitchman for Pennsylvania skills games, which is fitting because these machines muscled their way into the gaming scene and are now playing defense to stay there.
“Organizations like fraternal clubs and fire companies and VFW, as well as keeping family businesses going, these small businesses are part of the very fabric of Pennsylvania, and without legal skill games, many would have a hard time keeping the lights on and giving back to the communities that they are in,” said Nicole Miele, a skills game manufacturer.
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The exact number is unknown, but it is estimated up to 50,000 unregulated and untaxed gaming machines are in Pennsylvania.
Democratic State Rep. Danilo Burgos (D-Philadelphia) and Republican State Senator Gene Yaw (R-Bradford/Lycoming/Sullivan/Tioga/Union) want to implement one-time licensing fees, taxes, and yearly operating fees, as well as limiting most places to five total machines.
“There is a significant tax revenue to be gained from the skill games. Estimates are somewhere between maybe $200-300 million a year to the Commonwealth. That seems to me to be a pretty easy decision to make,” said Yaw.
The bill would tax skills games at 16%, far below casino slot machines which are taxed at 54%. It would also put skills machines under the Department of Revenue instead of the Gaming Control Board, which oversees casinos.
Critics say legitimizing these games is rewarding bad behavior.
“I just don’t agree with that. I mean, it’s like anything else we do. If there’s no prohibition about it, it’s not illegal and it’s not improper to do it,” Yaw added.
Casinos and the Pennsylvania Lottery insist the skill game machines are illegal, and while the Attorney General and State Police agree, but the courts have not.
Critics also say skills games are siphoning revenue, which is a tough argument to make when casinos and the lottery have been turning record profits.
While there is opposition, tens of thousands of skill game machines out there and hundreds of millions of potential tax dollars are as well. It’s likely not a question of if they get legalized, but when.