(WHTM)– You see them just about everywhere in Pennsylvania and they’re turning gas stations, convenience stores and even laundromats into mini-casinos.
They’re called games of skill they look like slot machines, and on Wednesday a senate hearing explored why, even though they’re big business, there’s no state oversight.
“These skill games machines have popped up all over the Commonwealth,” Senator Amanda Cappelletti (D-Montgomery, Delaware counties).
The biggest skill of these games? Proliferating and profit-making, testifiers said, but the state’s the big loser.
“Currently these skills games are not regulated they do not have the safeguards or provide for protections like self-exclusion,” Cappelletti said.
The state doesn’t tax what has become a billion-dollar-a-year industry, inspect the machines, provide help for gambling addicts, or keep minors from playing. A city councilman said this of a child in inner-city Philly.
“The probability of him running into a book, a vegetable, or a gambling machine, the probability is he’s going to run into one of those gambling machines,” Philadelphia City Council member Curtis Jones said.
Lawmakers say they intended for the gambling law to prohibit such machines. Courts have ruled otherwise. Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny County) calls it a loophole.
“Far as I’m concerned, we should be shutting them all down and then starting over again,” Fontana said.
Pace-O-Matic the largest manufacturer of these games chose to avoid the bash-fest. But released a statement blaming casinos for leading the fight to ban them.
“What the big multi-state and out-of-state casinos are really saying is they don’t care how much their underhanded efforts hurt Pennsylvania small businesses, fraternal clubs, American Legions, VFWs and volunteer fire companies,” spokesperson Mike Barley said.
“Why are you complaining, Mr. Casino,” the sponsor of the bill to legalize skills games Gene Yaw said.
Republican Senator Yaw’s bill would tax, regulate and legalize the games. He scoffs at the casino’s complaints.
“If you’re worried about the mom-and-pop store that has five of these machines, then I almost want to say there’s something wrong with your business plan,” Yaw said.
Pace-O-Matic’s unusual business plan of forcing its way into the game is paying off but the state’s not getting its cut. That needs to change, lawmakers say.
“Hopefully, we can figure out what needs to be done either,” Senator Jay Costa said. “Either we’re going to prohibit them or we’re going to permit them.”
A Pace-O-Matic spokeswoman told me the company is willing to testify in any future hearings when the focus isn’t so negative and it’s able to discuss the positive impact of skills games, which is standard.