HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — As Pennsylvania’s budget battle heats up between lawmakers and new Governor Josh Shapiro, there is an intense backroom brawl involving popular games of skill commonly found at gas stations, bars, and convenience stores.
The question among lawmakers is whether those games of skill are slot machines or just entertainment? Many have been waiting years for the Commonwealth Court to rule on that question.
In the meantime, the machines have appeared all over the state and players can win real money on them. Bill Kokos, the owner of the Sierra Madre Saloon in Cumberland County, says he has four machines that earn him roughly $2,500 a week. Kokos says he’s used that money to upgrade his facility and to offer a 401K to his employees.
Plenty of small businesses like the extra cash, but there is the thorny question of legality, and casinos that put down $50 million for licenses and are both regulated and taxed say those machines are cutting into their profits.
The State Lottery insists these machines take $170 million a year bite out of their bottom line, but Kokos is not buying that.
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“Both of those organizations have reported record profits month over month and year over year for at least the last three to four fiscal years,” said Kokos. “So as such, I don’t really see how that argument holds water when they are making money hand over fist within those two organizations.”
Pete Shelly with Pennsylvanians Against Gaming Expansion says Parx could have put 100 skill games into a storefront and ignored regulators, but instead, they invested tens of millions of dollars into their new Shippesnburg casino.
“No gaming tax revenues, no jobs, no real investment. And everybody said, okay, good for them. That’s not the way it should work,” said Shelly.
It is estimated if games of skill were taxed and regulated, they could generate a couple hundred million dollars for the state.