Solving skill game public safety concerns in progress



(The Center Square) – As Pennsylvania considers regulating skill games, the public safety concerns associated with the undertaking weigh heavily on policymakers and law enforcement alike.

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association said recently that although they take no stance on legislative efforts to bring the machines into legal compliance, upticks in crime have been noted at establishments where skill games exist.

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

In a letter to Gov. Josh Shapiro sent Feb. 1, association President Brian Sinnett and Executive Director Kelly Callihan said thieves target the machines – which contain cash boxes – at gas stations, pizza shops, convenience stores and other taverns where security is weak.

The reality “puts a strain on law enforcement,” even though the machines’ revenue boon for small businesses can’t be ignored, the association said.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport, chief architect of skill games regulation legislation, told The Center Square on Tuesday that the senator’s proposal acknowledges the risks.

That’s why it stipulates sharing some tax revenues with law enforcement to support their efforts “to protect the public and store owners,” she said.

The bill will also better define a skill game and implement limits on terminals and the locations where these terminals may be placed. It’s also projected to bring in $300 million in annual tax revenues for the state.

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 say 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.

The association noted that security at casinos makes them safer. They also “sympathize” with small businesses that offer skill games, but also “must recognize that there are societal costs with their operation.”

The association asked Shapiro to help shape policy that regulates the machines and provides clear guidance to law enforcement, saying that “the legislative process should include consumer protection measures, security requirements, and mechanisms to prevent underage use.”

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