Tic-Tac-No: New Bill Comes After Dubiously Legal Skill Games In PA

A new bill with broad support from both the Lottery and PA police hope to clearly criminalize the legally gray games of skill in Pennsylvania bars.

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.

Court Sides With Lottery On Wire Act, But iGaming Not Out Of The Woods Yet

On Monday, the New Hampshire Lottery Commission breathed a sigh of relief as US District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro sided with gambling interests. Specifically, the 60-plus page opinion found in favor of online gambling, lotteries and casinos and against the Department of Justice’s new Wire Act interpretation.

Recall that New Hampshire previously sued the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) over a revised Wire Act opinion. The core of the revised opinion states that all forms of online gambling violate the Wire Act.

More on the Wire Act decision

On standing

In short, after New Hampshire filed suit, the DOJ responded via a motion to dismiss the case. More specifically, the DOJ claimed the plaintiffs (New Hampshire and the lottery vendors) have no standing to sue. Therefore, there is no right to relief.

Their argument against standing is that New Hampshire and the lottery vendors do not face an imminent threat of prosecution.

Barbadoro effortlessly dismissed the DOJ’s argument on standing.

First, they have openly engaged for many years in conduct that the 2018 OLC Opinion now brands as criminal, and they intend to continue their activities unless they are forced to stop because of a reasonable fear that prosecutions will otherwise ensue. Second, the risk of prosecution is substantial. After operating for years in reliance on OLC guidance that their conduct was not subject to the Wire Act, the plaintiffs have had to confront a sudden about-face by the Department of Justice. Even worse, they face a directive from the Deputy Attorney General to his prosecutors that they should begin enforcing the OLC’s new interpretation of the Act after the expiration of a specified grace period. Given these unusual circumstances, the plaintiffs have met their burden to establish their standing to sue.

Grammatical interpretation

As a reminder, the Wire Act written in 1961 is both outdated and poorly written.  Consequently, it allows for various interpretations. Both New Hampshire and the DOJ argue that the “plain language” of the Wire Act support their arguments.

Barbadoro decided “where, as here, a statute is ambiguous, a court must look at more than grammar to determine its meaning.” After a through examination, Barbadoro concluded to limit the Wire Act to sports gambling. In doing so, his decision “avoids significant coherence problems” which could result from the DOJ’s interpretation.

Limitations on the ruling

The Court took specific notice that the parties disagree on whether judgment should be limited to the parties or be a universal ruling. A universal ruling is applicable to anyone affected including Pennsylvania online lottery and online gambling. Of course, the DOJ wants the ruling to apply only to the parties in the case.

While the Court did agree with the DOJ on this particular argument, Barbadoro also noted that judgment binds the parties outside of New Hampshire. This is due to NeoPollard, New Hampshire’s lottery vendor, operating outside of New Hampshire.

How to extend the judgment

However, all is not lost. Previously, the state of Michigan filed an amicus brief. Their argument is to extend relief to non-parties on behalf of the Lottery Commission.

The National Law Review succinctly outlines Michigan’s argument.

The argument was predicated on the fact that New Hampshire, as a member of the Multi-State Lottery Association, benefits financially from the large scale of multi-jurisdictional games such as Powerball. If another state, such as Michigan, shuttered its state lottery, then the overall revenues of Powerball would decline. If the revenues of Powerball decline, then the share of Powerball revenue that New Hampshire receives would decrease. Based on this Michigan argued that the Court should ensure that New Hampshire not suffer any adverse financial effect.

Sadly, New Hampshire did not use this argument. For this reason, Barbadoro stated, “Should the Lottery Commission wish to pursue such relief, however, I am willing to entertain its claim.”

New Hampshire Lottery Commission has 14 days to file the motion. This motion requires the fleshing out of adequate factual and legal arguments.

What now?

Although Barbadoro ruled in favor of New Hampshire, the DOJ can still appeal to the First Circuit Court.

Should the appeal occur, the First Circuit Court has to review the case de novo. This means the court reviews the case anew or independently as if no decision by Barbadoro was previously made.

As a result, the appeals process will take months, if not years to finalize.

PA online poker

So, who benefits most from the ruling on the Wire Act? The answer is Pennsylvania online poker players.

The DOJ’s Wire Act opinion threw Pennsylvania’s expansion of online poker compacting and multi-state lottery games right into violation of their interpretation. Fortunately, Barbadoro’s ruling clears the way for the expansion of online poker in PA should the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board decide to proceed.

The exciting potential of PA entering the online poker compact would immediately double the amount of online poker players across the four compacted states.

Wind Creek Officially On Its Way To Gambling In PA

PA Gaming Control recently approved the transfer of gaming license for Sands Bethlehem from Sands Corp to new owner, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) finally approved the change of Sands Bethlehem’s license to Poarch Creek Indians Gaming Authority (PCI Gaming).

PCI Gaming operates under the Wind Creek Hospitality Brand. The $1.3 billion sale of Sands Bethlehem also requires Wind Creek to pay a change-of-control fee of $3.75 million to PGCB’s coffers.

Faster than a speeding bullet

Wind Creek President and CEO Jay Dorris projects the transition to occur very quickly. Specifically, the sale might conclude as early as this week. In addition, $15 million has been earmarked for rebranding expenditures. Dorris expects rebranding to be complete within 90 days.

Artist rendering of Wind Creek (Wind Creek/Contributed)

Bigger and bigger: more hotel rooms and meeting space

To begin with, Wind Creek presented an expansion plan to PGCB  for $90 million included in its acquisition funding.

Currently, amenities include:

  • 282 hotel rooms
  • Over 183,000 square footage of casino floor space
  • 3,000 slots and electronic table games
  • 200 table games
  • Multiple food and beverage vendors
  • A 150,000 square foot retail mall
  • 27,000 square feet of convention space

In two years, another 276 hotel rooms and 42,000 square feet of meeting space will be completed.

Wind Creek stated in its presentation that the current hotel space is 93% occupied. This means that potential hotel guests are turned away on a weekly basis. While that is good news, Sands Bethlehem did decline by $7 million in conventions last year due to its meager meeting space.

Get ready for a new wild and wet adventure

Wind Creek has ambitious plans for the vacant and desolate No. 2 Machine Shop at the former Bethlehem Steel site. Specifically, the site will transform into a 300,000 square foot adventure and water park. Also, this expansion includes another expansion of 400 hotel rooms.

Most importantly, the acquisition financing includes $100 million towards the revitalization of the Machine Shop. However, this project’s budget is $250 million. As a result, Wind Creek is actively soliciting investors for the remainder $150 million.

Make way for the online casino

Conditional for the sale of Sands Bethlehem to Wind Creek, Sands executives applied for and gained approval from the PGCB for a PA interactive gaming license in October 2018.

Currently, Wind Creek is actively seeking an online casino platform. The expectation is to finalize a partnership and launch the online casino within three months, but that is probably a lofty goal given how much work is involved. If they did meet that deadline, this time frame would fall directly in line with Dorris’ rebranding transition timeline.

Keep in mind that many PA operators have been working at an online product for almost a year and are still at risk of potentially missing the July 15 launch date.

Sports betting still in the works

Wind Creek aims to add PA sports betting to their casino. Admittedly, the process needs to commence.

Sands did not apply for a sports betting license. The company knew they were selling the property and sports betting applications do not have a deadline.

Now Wind Creek can move forward on sports betting, but first, it needs to finalize a partner. Once they have one though, they can move forward on applying for a $10 million license.

Cleaning up the underage gambling issues

In April, Sands was forced to pay out $120,000 in underage gambling fines. Historically, underage gambling is a recurring issue at Sands Bethlehem.

As anticipated, PGCB questioned Wind Creek ensuring a hard line is in place against underage gambling. In addition to current measures, facial recognition to match government ID along with hiring more employees is expected in the near future.

PGCB Rolls Out Online Gambling Self-Exclusion Program

With online gambling starting to roll out, the PA Gaming Control Board released info about its new iGaming Self-Exclusion program for problem gamblers.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) recently released new measures for responsible gambling in the PA online casino space. Now that online gaming is imminent, the group has a process for the iGaming Self Exclusion Program.

Specifically, the self-exclusion program allows a player to request exclusion from PA online gambling sites, both sportsbook and casino. In addition, this includes prohibition from “collecting any winnings, recovering any losses or accepting complimentary gifts or services or any other thing of value at any licensed facility.”

How to request self-exclusion

The processes for online and brick and mortar self-exclusion are fairly similar. Though it is interesting to note that there are two separate lists, so if you want to be self-excluded from both, you need to go through this process twice.

In short, anyone may request self-exclusion. However, you cannot request self-exclusion for someone else.

First, complete the paperwork made available by the PGCB. Second, to submit your request, you must schedule an appointment at the PGCB Harrisburg Office or one of the regional offices.

To make an appointment, call 717-346-8300.

Equally important, you cannot mail or e-mail a self-exclusion request. You must apply in person in order to be photographed along with a valid government identification with signature and photograph.

Required information for self-exclusion

To begin the online self-exclusion process, have the following information ready:

  • Name, including aliases or nicknames
  • Date of birth
  • Address of current residence
  • Telephone number
  • Social security number (optional)
  • Government-issued photo identification such as a driver’s license or passport

Choose the duration for exclusion

PGCB allows you to choose how long to be excluded from gaming. Specifically, you have a choice of one year (12 months), five years or lifetime.

Accordingly, please note that whatever you choose is the minimum length of exclusion.

Please note, self-exclusions of 1 or 5 years remain even after the time period is up until you request removal. Submit the request for removal by calling 717-346-8300.

Equally important, if you choose the lifetime ban, you are unable to request removal.

What happens after signing up

Any licensed facility must refuse wagers and disallow gaming privileges.

Equally important, if you somehow manage to gamble while on the Self-Exclusion List, you will be barred from collecting any winnings or recovering losses.

Problems with gambling

Should you believe that you have a problem with gambling, call the Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania Hotline at 1-800-GAMBLER.

For more information and any questions or concerns, visit www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov or e-mail [email protected]

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board 
Attn: Office of Compulsive and Problem Gambling  
P.O. Box 69060 
Harrisburg, PA 17106-9060

NASCAR Hopes In-House Product Will Capitalize On Online Betting Popularity

NASCAR hopes to win over online bettors in PA and other states with its own in-game betting product from its new partnership with Genius Sports.

Last week, NASCAR announced a collaboration with Genius Sports to provide a live data system to licensed sportsbooks. This is the first step toward launching an advanced in-race live betting product. The end product will be a real-time gaming platform with live NASCAR odds plus other wagers and props.

NASCAR is one of the last sports to toss its hat into the gambling arena. Subsequently, only the NFL is left without an official gambling data deal.

Another venue of online sports betting in PA

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) confirmed the first PA sports betting app should be functional sometime in early May.

NASCAR Senior VP/Broadcast & Innovation Brian Herbst expects that Genius Sports will roll out official post-race data in the next several months. However, the more extensive in-race data will likely not be available until the latter stages of this year or early 2020.

In states with regulated sports betting like Pennsylvania, we expect to place real-time NASCAR sports bets online eventually. Wagers on fastest lap times or winners can be placed from the convenience of mobile devices and computers.

In addition, data compilation allows sportsbooks to offer live prop bets during NASCAR races such as fastest pit stops.

Given that New Jersey’s sports betting market is 80% online betting, it makes sense that NASCAR wants to be ready with an online-friendly product as more states roll out betting apps.

 The search for a corporate marketing partner

NASCAR laid the groundwork before the 2019 season. It developed a comprehensive sports integrity program and gambling policy in conjunction with SportRadar. As part of the partnership, SportRadar will monitor NASCAR betting activity and will flag any suspicious behavior accordingly.

In addition to the Genius Sports partnership, NASCAR is now actively looking to secure a sportsbook as a corporate marketing partner.

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Anticipating growth

Genius Sports CEO Mark Locke looks forward to the growth of the NASCAR sports betting experience.

NASCAR fans are some of the most devoted in the world, and we look forward to helping them to create a deeper, more connected experience that is both safe and secure as the business of sports betting continues to evolve in the US. This new relationship will provide another entry point to the sport and complements our strategy to create a more immersive experience for fans.

About Genius Sports

Genius Sports is the global leader in sports data and supplies data to more than 150 sportsbooks nationwide. In addition to NASCAR, Genius Sports partners with many other leagues and federations such as NBA, NCAA, PGA Tour and the Premier League.

PA Lottery’s Fast Play Gave One Player A $1.5 Million Instant Win

The relatively new instant win game Fast Play awarded one PA Lottery player a record prize of $1.5 million dollars as quickly as a snap of the fingers.

A lucky winner snagged a Pennsylvania Lottery Extreme Green progressive top winning prize ticket of more than $1.5 million on April 17, 2019. This is the largest progressive top prize won since Pennsylvania Lottery Fast Play games’ inception in February 2017.

The innovation of PA Lottery’s Fast Play

Pennsylvania Lottery launched Fast Play in February of 2017. Fast Play is unique and unlike traditional scratch-off lottery tickets. It offers an instant win without having to scratch off a ticket or wait for a drawing.

Players can print tickets from any lottery terminal or touch screen self-service terminal. After that, to check for winning tickets, players can conveniently use scanners at any lottery retailer or use the official PA Lottery mobile app.

More games and chances to win

Fast Play only offered four games on launch. Now, it has steadily grown and expanded game offerings with 14 different games.

Also, Fast Play now offers a second chance at winning prizes with a Fast Frenzy Second Chance Drawing. Simply enter any non-winning ticket for a second and instant chance to win.

Don’t forget that all prizes have to be claimed within a year.

The recent growth of PA Lottery’s other games

Pennsylvania Lottery started to offer online games with the passage of a gambling expansion law in October 2017. Online games appeal to a younger demographic who are more electronic savvy with cell phones and tablets. In addition, the ease and convenience appeal to everyone.

PA online lottery

The PA iLottery offers a variety of instant win online scratch-off games. Like Fast Play, the games offer the satisfaction of an instant win.

If you want to give the PA iLottery a try, sign up for an account and get a free $5 using the bonus code PLAY 5.

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Xpress Sports: PA’s virtual sports games

Xpress Car Racing and Xpress Football require players to make some decisions and bring a fun game experience in a shorter time frame than a full football game or NASCAR race. It is similar to sports betting, minus all the research that goes into some bets.

These games are available at Pennsylvania Lottery retailers offering monitor games.

Keno in PA

Keno launched in Pennsylvania on May 1, 2018. It is a lottery style based game. Players can find Keno at adult-centered businesses such as bars and restaurants. The game displays on monitors throughout the area.

Players choose a set of numbers from 1 to 80. Then, the PA Lottery selects 20 random numbers. The more numbers that a player selects among those drawn and the amount of the wager increase the payouts. Keno drawings are held every four minutes throughout the day.

Positive growth expected for new lottery’s games

“The new games currently represent a small portion of the lottery’s overall growth, but the Pennsylvania Lottery anticipates iLottery, Keno, and Xpress Sports will continue to grow,” said Ewa Dworakowski, Pennsylvania Lottery press secretary.

PA Lottery’s purpose

Lottery proceeds in Pennsylvania have always funded programs that benefit the aging residents of the state. With the expected growth and new game offerings, it is expected that more of Pennsylvania’s aging residents will also be able to participate in such programs.

Last Minute Memo Throws A Wrench In Wire Act Lawsuit

A late DOJ court filing includes a memo suggesting its new Wire Act interpretation does not apply to lottery. It could get the NH Lotto suit dismised.

The legal compass of the Wire Act has changed once more with a new 11th-hour filing. The DOJ filed new evidence, including a memo on how the new Wire Act opinion applies to state lotteries. Or rather, that it does not apply to state lotteries.

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DOJ conducting a review of state lotteries

In the memo the DOJ filed, state lotteries are exempt currently from the opinion issued by the DOJ OLC on January 15, 2019. That new opinion stated that any transmission of a bet or wager across state lines would violate the Wire Act.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stated in the memo that Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion earlier this year did not address the issue of state lotteries or their vendors.

Vendors are companies like NeoPollard and Pollard Banknote that provide lottery technology. These companies successfully joined into the New Hampshire suit against the DOJ.

The DOJ alleges it is now conducting a review on the applicability of the Wire Act to state lotteries and will not be prosecuting such cases while the DOJ conducts the review. The group will look both at multi-state draw games like Powerball and Mega Million and online lottery games.

The 11th-hour legal maneuver by the DOJ

State lotteries and their vendors can breathe a heavy and collected sigh of relief for now. However, what follows from this new memo released by the DOJ is a downright brilliant and shrewd legal maneuver.

It is also one that can extricate the government from the pending litigation brought by New Hampshire and NeoPollard. The case impacts other states too. Many states with a stake in online gaming and lottery, including Pennsylvania, filed amici briefs in the case.

Because the DOJ exempts state lotteries and its vendors out of the most recent opinion regarding the Wire Act, this potentially leaves New Hampshire, NeoPollard, and Pollard Banknote with no standing to bring suit. The New Hampshire Circuit Court could dismiss the case because there is no expectation or fear of prosecution for violation of the Wire Act.

NeoPollard’s attorney speaks out

Matthew D. McGill of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, represents NeoPollard in the suit. He told Law360 (paywall) via email that the DOJ considers state lotteries as “felonies in progress.” McGill further stated:

“Desperate to avoid judicial review of its radical reinterpretation of the Wire Act, DOJ now is backtracking from the clear import of the reversal of position that it supposedly had so carefully considered. DOJ’s eleventh-hour statement that it may — or may not — further revise its interpretation of the Wire Act only underscores the arbitrariness of the reversal of DOJ’s long-held position that the Wire Act addresses only sports betting activities.”

As both sides have filed motions for summary judgment, all parties plus those who filed amici briefs will appear for oral arguments as scheduled on April 11.

Sheldon Adelson involved again

Two weeks ago, the National Association of Convenience Stores and Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) filed amici briefs on behalf of the DOJ. CSIG is made up of many conservative Christian groups. Sheldon Adelson founded the group in 2013. The convenience stores group has always opposed lottery expansion online.

This is not the first instance of alleged meddling by Adelson. NJ Attorney General, Grubir S. Grewal, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to uncover links between Adelson and the issuance of the January 15, 2019 OLC opinion. The Wall Street Journal has also alleged a direct link between Adelson and the DOJ’s OLC opinion.

What happens next for the DOJ Wire Act case?

The NH District Court is expected to rule on the summary judgment motion as early as May. An appeal will likely be filed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The First Circuit Court of Appeals has previously stated that the Wire Act only applies to ‘wagers on any sporting event or contest,’ that is, sports betting.”