Tomlinson announces legislation to combat ‘illegal Pennsylvania skill games’

State Sen. Tommy Tomlinson last week joined Pennsylvania Lottery officials, the Pennsylvania State Police and senior groups to announce legislation to combat what they claim are “illegal Pennsylvania skill games” that have cost the Pennsylvania Lottery an estimated $138 million in sales over the last year and put funding for senior programs at risk.

Tomlinson is introducing Senate Bill 710 to address the machines and funding for senior programs. Senate Bill 710 makes it a criminal offense for anyone to knowingly make, assemble, maintain, lease or sell games of skill.

“These illegal machines are creating a huge risk for the older Pennsylvanians who rely upon the programs the Lottery funds,” said Pennsylvania Lottery Executive Director Drew Svitko. “The games of skill machines are appearing across the state, and we are deeply concerned the harm will only increase. Sen. Tomlinson’s legislation will crack down on the machines and preserve hundreds of millions of dollars that help seniors afford prescriptions, transportation, meals and more.”

There are about 5,050 games of skill machines in Pennsylvania Lottery retailers. The Lottery estimates that, for every games of skill machine placed in a Lottery retailer, the Lottery loses about $2,284 per machine per month.

“I drafted this legislation after learning the impact these machines have on the Pennsylvania Lottery,” Tomlinson said. “I am concerned about the negative effect these unregulated, unlicensed, untaxed gambling machines have on unsuspecting players, youth and Lottery funds, which support essential services for our senior citizens.”

Under Tomlinson’s bill, a first offense would be a first-degree misdemeanor that carries a fine of at least $5,000 per violation upon conviction. A second offense is also a first-degree misdemeanor that carries a fine of at least $10,000 per violation upon conviction. A third or subsequent offense would be a third-degree felony that carries a fine of at least $15,000 per violation upon conviction.

The Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement has the primary enforcement authority over licensed liquor establishments, where many games of skill machines are found. Since January 2019, liquor enforcement officers have confirmed the operation of suspected gambling devices in every county in Pennsylvania.

“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,” said Maj. Scott T. Miller, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. “This bill provides clear guidelines to aid in voluntary compliance by business owners, club officers and vending distributors as well as enhanced penalties for those who violate the law.”

In addition to the impact on the Lottery’s Scratch-Off sales, which make up roughly 70 percent of the Lottery’s business, the Lottery contends that games of skill are a roadblock in convincing retailers to offer its games such as Keno and Xpress Sports.

“These machines have the potential to cost the Lottery hundreds of millions of dollars in future harm,” Svitko said. “It’s imperative that we take action now to protect the funding that supports the programs that older Pennsylvanians rely upon each year.”

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Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Skill released the results of a statewide survey conducted May 28-30 by Harper.

The survey showed that people oppose a ban on skill games, such as puzzles and tic-tac-toe, 56 percent to 31 percent.

Some 54 percent would favor regulations and taxes on skill games, which can be found at some gas stations, convenience stores and bars.

By a measure of 60 percent to 31 percent, people believe there is a difference between skill games and slot machines.

Just 1 percent would stop playing the Pennsylvania Lottery if skill games were more readily available.

Pennsylvania Skill spokesman Mike Barley said, “This survey shows that a majority of Pennsylvania voters, Republicans and Democrats, strongly oppose a ban on Pennsylvania Skill amusement devices and want this growing industry regulated. In line with the Beaver County Court of Common Pleas decisions that declared Pennsylvania Skill amusement devices legal, an overwhelming majority believe there is a clear difference between our devices, which are games of predominant skill, and slot machines or games of chance. Pennsylvania Skill amusement devices are manufactured in Williamsport, pay millions in taxes to the commonwealth and the industry has helped to reinvigorate small businesses, bars, taverns, VFWs, American Legions, volunteer firefighter organizations and other fraternal clubs. Pennsylvanian voters support our legal amusement devices and we encourage lawmakers to do the same.”

Harper Polling surveyed 609 likely voters in Pennsylvania. Responses were gathered via landline and mobile telephone interviews conducted by live callers at a professional call center.