On Monday, March 16, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board ordered all bricks-and-mortar casinos in the Keystone State to close their doors to patrons, part of a nationwide push to curb the effects of the global pandemic on the United States. A day after, gaming boards in Kansas and Missouri followed the Pennsylvania lead and before long, the entire ‘in-person’ legal gaming industry across the nation ground to a standstill.
While online casinos are proving to be a safe hit with Pennsylvania’s players, there’s some real confusion and annoyance over the Keystone State’s so-called ‘Games of Skill’ that can be found in convenience stores, pizza parlors and gas station across the state. Naturally, casino industry experts are leading the call for the Governor’s Public Health warning of March 16 effectively banning use of the skills games to be adhered to.
The warning stated simply on the use of the Games of Skill;
“Any business operating, servicing or otherwise maintaining a “Game of Skill” is subject to enforcement which may include an order to suspend otherwise authorized in-person operations.”
Games of Skill Machines still being played across PA
As recently as last weekend, many retail locations in Pennsylvania, Missouri and elsewhere still had live Game of Skill machines operating. It’s widely considered to be a slap in the face to legal casino operators in Pennsylvania that these machines are still operating.
Above all, the games of skill machines are a proven public health risk. The Center for Disease Control have determined that the Covid-19 virus can survive up to two or three days on plastic, stainless steel and other nonporous surfaces— exactly the materials that comprise a gaming machine. Moreover, as anyone has recently tried to enter a convenience store in the Keystone State can attest to, side-stepping around a person playing a game of skill is not exactly ideal social distancing.
Secondly, it is a threat to the Pennsylvanian land-based casino industry. These low-taxed machines are proliferating at exactly the time that the casinos have been ordered to close their doors. It’s clearly a legal loophole that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has no jurisdiction over the Games of Skill machines. Law enforcement officers across Pennsylvania have had more on their hands during the emergency than spending more time they don’t have on policing convenience stores and gas stations.
Before the current crisis began, the Pennsylvania State Police had confiscated a number of skill games in coordinated raids across the state. The largest manufacturer of the games in the State of Pennsylvania, Pace-O-Matic, is locked in an ongoing legal battle against seizures of its “Pennsylvania Skill”-branded games. However, since the pandemic hit, the police have naturally had more important issues to address in the short term.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) appears set to join in the battle against unregulated machines. The PGCB control a grant program for local jurisdictions to battle illegal gambling. To date, the Local Law Enforcement Grant Program has not yet been used to enforce action against unregulated skill games.
Gaming Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach says that he foresees a possibility that the program could be used in enforcement efforts against the skill games soon;
“The grant program that we oversee per the Gaming Act is far broader than skill games,” Harbach said “It is for law enforcement agencies to ‘investigate violations of and enforce laws relating to unlawful gambling. For example, I remember a grant to the city of Harrisburg that was used in particular to thwart dog fighting” he continued.
Pennsylvania’s legislators clearly need to come down on the issue definitively and make the law transparent for all to understand easily one way or the other.