Several powerful lawmakers in Pennsylvania have returned tens of thousands in cash that they received from the skill gaming industry.
The legality of skill gaming is once again being discussed this week in the Harrisburg capital. And after Pennsylvania Lottery officials testified that the controversial slot-like terminals are costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars each year in lost lottery proceeds, several politicians announced that they would return contributions from companies invested in the industry.
The industry is paying a lot of money to keep the status quo,” said Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Centre County). “I became concerned about the amount of money spreading around and returned it.”
Corman said he returned $27,000 from Pace-O-Matic (POM), a Georgia-based manufacturer of the skill gaming machines. Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland County) said she returned $16,500 POM money.
Senate Minority leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny County) revealed that he returned $10,000 in 2019 to POM.
Skill Gaming Debate
Pennsylvania Lottery Executive Director Drew Svitko testified this week that skill gaming machines are resulting in $145 million in reduced scratch-off lottery ticket sales each year.
“We’re meeting a lot of resistance, and typically it’s because of the presence of these illegal machines, which pay cash every week in an unregulated, untaxed environment. These machines are hurting our ability to deliver a great program,” Svitko said of lottery retailers favoring skill machines over pushing lottery sales.
POM rejected that notion, saying in a statement that lottery revenues in Pennsylvania have increased substantially since its machines began proliferating bars and restaurants, convenience stores, and social clubs.
The primary difference between a skill gaming machine and a traditional slot machine found inside a casino is that the player must identify a winning payline. Opponents of skill devices point to the fact that they are not taxed, nor regulated.
Capt. Jeffrey Rineer, who is the operations director for the Pennsylvania State Police’s Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, urged lawmakers to quickly pass legislation that makes the skill machines illegal.
“There is no set definition of what is being called a skill game,” Rineer stated. “It is merely an industry term that is designed to market these devices as something other than a slot machine.”
Skill Machine Revenue Benefits
While police and Pennsylvania’s licensed casinos want skill gaming banned, there are proponents for the devices.
They’ve been a game-changer,” Ryan Sprankle, who owns three Sprankle’s Neighborhood Market stores in Western Pennsylvania, told USA Today.
Sprankle says the machines have provided an influx in revenue that has allowed him to offer full benefits and meals to all of his full-time workers. He explained that his business keeps about 40 percent of the skill gaming proceeds.
POM attorney Matt Haverstick says the company wants Pennsylvania lawmakers to pass legislation that explicitly authorizes skill gaming.
“We’ve been trying to get regulated for quite some time,” Haverstick said. “That’s how the industry gets clean up. There are bad actors out there, but we’re not one of them.”
While the state doesn’t receive a cut of the gaming revenue from skill terminals — as they do from slot machines — Haverstick says POM does pay sales and income taxes.
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