In two decisions issued in the last few months, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has established conclusively that the state’s Gaming Act is inapplicable to so-called “skill-based” video game machines that are ubiquitous in taverns, restaurants, and other liquor-licensed establishments in the Commonwealth. After a comprehensive discussion of the rules of statutory construction and the Gaming Act’s legislative history, the Court reasoned that the Gaming Act applies only to legal gambling devices operated in licensed establishments, and not to unlicensed or illegal slot machines, which remain governed by the Crimes Code. Therefore, the Court also held, the games and those who manufacture, distribute and operate them are not subject to regulation by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
In a January 22, 2020 article, the Delco Times declared the decision a “decisive win” for the game’s proponents. But was it? Continue reading “PA Court Rules that Pennsylvania Skill Games are Neither Governed by the Gaming Act nor Regulated by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. So What?”
Pennsylvania State Police seized 414 illegal gaming machines in southwestern Pennsylvania in 2018.
Currently, people can gamble at state-regulated casinos, through the Pennsylvania Lottery, for horse races and, after the expansion of the law last year, online and at some truck stops. But the changes didn’t include gaming machines in bars and restaurants. In those venues, if a game is mostly chance, like a slot machine, it’s illegal. But if it requires skill, like poker, it’s legal.
Frank DiGiacomo, partner with the Duane Morris law firm, said the distinction comes from a 2014 court case out of Beaver County.
To read the full text of this article, please visit the WESA 90.5 website.
Duane Morris partner Christopher Soriano of the firm’s Cherry Hill office appeared on a recent broadcast of the “Wagner & Winick on the Law” radio program, during which he joined co-hosts Dean Mitchel Winick and Professor Stephen Wagner, both of Monterey College of Law, to discuss the interplay of federal and state laws in the United States related to regulating gambling and how many of these laws are outdated. A sampling of the topics discussed include Internet gaming, office brackets, fantasy sports, casinos and the lottery.
Within the context of the NCAA March Madness Tournament, Mr. Soriano provided insights on the gaming law implications of office bracket tournaments, which, as in most instances where people put in money on the results of a sporting event, are illegal for the most part. Mr. Soriano also commented on the developing area of fantasy sports and the important distinction to be drawn between games of skill and games of chance. For example, the traditional season-long fantasy sports contests are considered legal because skill is involved; while daily fantasy contests have been viewed as being illegal games of chance. Therefore, where is the line between when something is a contest of skill and when it is a contest of chance?
To listen to the radio program in its entirety, please visit the Recent Podcasts, Webcasts and Audio section on the Duane Morris website.
On February 12, 2014, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ Gaming Oversight Committee held a hearing to receive testimony regarding the prospects of legalizing electronic gaming devices, i.e video gaming machines, in the Commonwealth. The hearing focused on gaming along the lines of what was raised in a prior session’s bill, (2014 House Bill No 1932), which sought to legalize video gaming machines for bingo, keno, blackjack and other games for use in establishments with valid liquor licenses, such as restaurants, bars, taverns, hotels and clubs.
With a looming budgetary deficit Pennsylvania legislators are exploring various ways to increase gaming related tax revenue, including potentially moving forward with internet gaming through its existing bricks and mortar casinos. This recent Gaming Oversight Committee hearing revisiting the video gaming machines issue would be another means through which to generate gaming based tax revenue. The hearing’s witnesses touted the jobs and tax revenues generated by Illinois which implemented video gaming machines in bars, restaurants, taverns and truck stops several years ago – (projected IL tax revenues in excess of $250 million in 2015). While Illinois has had success generating tax revenue and producing jobs with its video gaming machine roll out, the machines do compete, on a low end basis with the states’ existing casinos. While local municipalities in Illinois can opt out of the video gaming program that option may not exist in a Pennsylvania bill and opposition from Pennsylvania’s casino industry remains to be seen.
Also, if considering video gaming at bars and taverns Pennsylvania may be well served to learn from some of the mistakes made with the passage of last year’s Tavern games legislation. Tavern games, with its gaming regulatory scrutiny focused on the bars/tavern owners, rather than through the games’ owners and route operators, lead to cost issues and a reluctance to move forward which hampered widespread implementation of tavern gaming. In addition, while Illinois has had relative success with its multi-tiered system of manufacturers, distributors, operators and establishments, that system has one too many layers to operate as effectively as it otherwise could. Few recall Pennsylvania’s short-lived requirement of local suppliers of slot machines layered between the industry’s manufacturers and end user casinos. The removal of the local supplier requirement opened the way to the implementation of Pennsylvania casinos in 2006. Finally the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and its agencies are more than capable of regulating and rolling out video gaming should it become law. Bringing in other, less experienced state agencies, such as Liquor Control or the Department of Revenue would only further complicate and delay implementation should the law pass.