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Skill games split lawmakers

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(The Center Square) — Though there’s been a push to formally legalize skill-game gambling machines in Pennsylvania, some legislators want them banned outright.

Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Norristown, and Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Temple, plan to introduce legislation “that will end the use of so-called ‘skill games’ in the commonwealth,” they noted in a legislative memo.

Skill games look like slot machines, but users can affect the outcome, making them “games of skill” rather than “games of chance.”

“In addition to preying on users of the machines, skill games also steal money that should be going to Pennsylvania Lottery programs that support programs for our senior citizens,” Rozzi said.

He also argued that skill games divert revenue away from casinos.

“These gaming machines can be found in convenience stores, restaurants, malls, gas stations and other places of business throughout Pennsylvania,” Cappelletti said. “Despite the illusion that the state has oversight, there are no consumer protection measures, prevention of play by minors, assistance for problem gamblers, money laundering controls, or other regulations protecting Pennsylvanians from these predatory machines.”

The proposal will butt up against the proposal of Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport, who wants to formally allow the skill games.

In May, Yaw proposed incorporating the games by regulating them under the Department of Revenue with enforcement authority under the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement and argued the commonwealth would see about $300 million in extra tax revenue as a result, though he didn’t specify how he arrived at that figure.

During an October hearing, tensions flared between supporters of skill games and the casino industry, which argued that it undermined them.

Parx Casino Board Chairman Bob Green called the games “illegal” and “an insidious contortion,” and other casino officials argued the legislature was considering a risky change of the rules.

Yaw called the officials “the biggest display of corporate greed that I have seen since I have been in the Senate” and remonstrated them for insulting his constituents who work in manufacturing or operating skill games.

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