Newly introduced legislation takes aim at so-called “skill games” available at many Pennsylvania bars and gas stations.

Earlier this month, Sen. Tommy Tomlinson in partnership with the Pennsylvania Lottery officials, the Pennsylvania State Police, and senior groups, introduced new legislation to fight back against illegal “skill games.”

These so-called “skill games” can hardly be classified as requiring much skill. In truth, they are very similar to slot machines with games like “matching color blocks” or completion of a tic-tac-toe board.

The Pennsylvania Lottery estimates that it lost $138 million in sales to “skill games”. In turn, this cuts deep into funding for senior programs.

The nitty-gritty of Senate Bill 710

Should Senate Bill 710 pass, it would be a “criminal offense to knowingly make, assemble, maintain, lease, or sell Games of Skill.”

To explain, the first violation is a first-degree misdemeanor. This would carry a fine of at least $5,000 per violation.

Second offenses are also a first-degree misdemeanor. However, second offenses carry a heftier fine of at least $10,000 per violation upon conviction.

Lastly, third or subsequent offenses are third-degree felonies. Third offenses carry the heaviest fine of all at $15,000 per violation upon conviction.

Tomlinson intends to achieve a powerful deterrent for law enforcement to use against unsanctioned gambling with his proposed legislation.

Proliferation of illegal skill games

Without a doubt, these alleged games of skill have long been a thorn in the side of the Pennsylvania Lottery.

According to the PA Lottery press release, there are approximately 5,050 games of skill machines installed at lottery retailers.

In addition, the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement noted that officers found illegal games of skill in every PA county.

Director of Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, Major Scott T. Miller stated:

We continue to see an increase of suspected illegal gambling devices within licensed liquor establishments, but perhaps even more concerning is the illegal gambling happening in convenience stores, strip malls, and shopping centers.

Because of the proliferation in illegal Games of Skill machines, the next logical step taken by PA lawmakers is to strengthen existing law.

Cutting deep into PA Lottery revenue

Although the PA Lottery upped the number of games offered to lottery retailers, like KenoXpress Sports, and iLottery, many businesses elect to sticking with “skill games.”

In addition, these problematic “skill games” negatively affect PA Lottery’s largest revenue earner, scratch-off sales. Scratch-off sales account for nearly 70 percent of lottery revenue.

For every game of skill machine, PA Lottery estimates $2,284 lost. As a result, money that would otherwise go toward programs and services for seniors is also lost.

Unfortunately, this is precisely because illegal skill games produce higher rates of return for owners than the lottery. Therefore, these dubious skill games remain rampant throughout the Keystone State.

Drew Svitko, the Lottery’s executive director, is eager to protect the Lottery and funding that supports senior Pennsylvanians.

These machines have the potential to cost the Lottery hundreds of millions of dollars in future harm. It’s imperative that we take action now to protect the funding that supports the programs that older Pennsylvanians rely upon each year.