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Pennsylvania Skills Games Debate Pits Casinos against Lawmakers

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A debate over whether skills games constitute gambling continues in Pennsylvania, and the result is a polarizing discussion on the stance the state should take. Currently under discussion in the Pennsylvania Senate is a proposed bill seeking to introduce fresh regulations for skills games. This topic has sparked debate as casinos argue the proposed measures are insufficient.

An Undefined Future

Skills games, commonly found in local restaurants, convenience stores and organizations like the VFW and American Legions, have been instrumental in aiding these establishments in overcoming the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The manufacturers of the games argue that, although they're similar to slot machines, they're different in that skilled players have a much better chance of winning every time they play.

Related: Pennsylvania August Total Gambling Revenue Decreases 2.1%

According to Michel Barley, the Chief Public Affairs Officer for Pace-O-Matic, a software developer behind the games, the games have proven vital in supporting establishments dealing with various market dynamics. Barley remarked, "It's something that's helping them as they deal with all the different things, inflation and other things that are going on in the market."

Despite their positive impact, concerns have been raised regarding the perceived lack of comprehensive regulation for PA Skill games. Casey Clark, the Senior Vice President of the American Gaming Association, voiced additional concerns, emphasizing the absence of consumer protections and age verification.

Clark stated, "There are no protections for consumers, there's no verification of the age or the customer and who's playing these devices when they're left to a store clerk to oversee activity that's happening in those places."

In response to these apprehensions, skill game developers are actively collaborating with the state to advocate for the passage of Senate Bill 706. This proposed legislation aims to define the permissible locations for terminals, set limits on their numbers and impose an additional tax.

According to Barley, Senate Bill 706 would designate age-restricted and defined locations for the terminals, providing not only protections for players but also for the establishments, creating a fair playing field. However, this proposal faces opposition from many casinos who argue that the regulations still fall short.

Skills Games Get a Break

Presently, casinos in Pennsylvania are subject to a tax rate of 55%, whereas the proposed regulations would impose a 16% tax on skill games. Clark expressed reservations, stating, "I think if anybody could live up to the same rigors of regulation and standard that legal operators and machine manufacturers do in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, then they should try that."

In contrast, skill game developers contend that a lower tax rate is justified. They say that 85% of the revenue generated from these games is already staying within Pennsylvania.

As of now, Senate Bill 706 is still under discussion in committee and has not undergone a voting process. The ultimate fate of the proposed restrictions remains uncertain as stakeholders closely monitor the ongoing deliberations in the Pennsylvania Senate. The debate underscores the challenge of striking a balance between regulating emerging gaming sectors and ensuring fair competition within the broader gaming industry.

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