Pennsylvania skill games secured a major legal victory this week when the state’s Commonwealth Court upheld a lower county judge’s ruling that concluded the controversial terminals commonly found in restaurants, bars, convenience stores, and private clubs are not illegal gambling devices.
A person plays a Pennsylvania Skill game in a bar. The skill gaming industry in the state won a major legal ruling this week when the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court upheld a lower court’s decision that skill games do not constitute gambling. (Image: The Morning Call)
In a 7-0 decision published Thursday, the Commonwealth Court unanimously ruled that “skill games” — games that look, sound, and operate closely to a traditional slot machine found inside one of the state’s 17 brick-and-mortar casinos — do not constitute gambling.
The Commonwealth Court was reviewing an appeal of Dauphin County Judge Andrew Dowling’s conclusion reached in March that found the skill games not to violate the state’s Gaming Act or Crimes Code. Dowling said for a game to constitute gambling, “it must be a game where chance predominates rather than skill.”
Simply because a machine involves a large element of chance … is insufficient to find the machine to be a gambling device,” Dowling said.
The county judge determined that the element of chance with a skill game rests with the player rather than the machine, the latter which is the case with a slot or gambling machine. Dowling ordered the skill gaming machines state police previously confiscated to be returned along with any cash seized from skill gaming operations.
Major Win for Skill Gaming
The most popular skill gaming title in the state is “Pennsylvania Skill.” The game’s software was developed by Pace-O-Matic (POM), a Georgia-based firm, and the cabinets are manufactured and distributed by Pennsylvania-based Miele Manufacturing.
Unlike a Las Vegas-style slot, which automatically reveals whether a spin won or lost, a Pennsylvania skill game requires the player to identify a winning payline. The skill aptitude, supporters say, deals with players being able to pinpoint winning combinations of the animated reel symbols.
Players are presented with nine symbols and try and match as many paylines as possible with three like symbols arranged vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. Players are given 30 seconds to tap on the terminal before the round concludes.
The gameplay, the Commonwealth Court ruled, means skill is the overriding factor in determining a player’s outcome.
“The POM machines at issue in this case are not slot machines as commonly defined,” Commonwealth Court Judge Lori Dumas wrote in the majority. “Accordingly, these electronic games are not illegal. Further, applying the predominant factor test adopted by this Court … these POM machines are not gambling devices and therefore do not constitute derivative contraband.”
Attorney Susan Affront, who’s representing Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry in the matter, says the state plans to appeal the Commonwealth Court’s decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Pennsylvania’s casinos say the skill games are poaching business from their properties. Slot machines are taxed at an effective rate of 54% while skill games provide no tax benefit.
To their credit, the skill gaming firms have asked the state to legalize and tax their games to give players a better sense of confidence in participating. Legislation has been introduced in Harrisburg to both legalize and prohibit the games.
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