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Despite Legal Gambling in Pennsylvania Illegal Games of Skill Still Remain

As Pennsylvania has become more dependent upon gambling revenue in the past decade to balance its budget and pay for needed services, forms of gaming that haven't been legalized are facing renewed scrutiny. Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 16.58.01

Among the concerns are “games of skill,” which look like slot machines and used to be found mostly in liquor and “speakeasy” establishments, Maj. Scott Miller, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, said at a news conference this week.

The machines are illegal, yet law enforcement officers are finding them in all Pennsylvania counties, Miller said. They're showing up inside convenience stores and strip malls, and some companies are even setting up mini casinos using the machines.

The machines are diverting people from playing the Pennsylvania Lottery and endangering programs that serve the commonwealth’s senior population, said Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-Bucks. For every machine that is in a retailer that also sells lottery tickets, the lottery loses about $2,284 a month per machine, Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson is introducing Senate Bill 710, which would stiffen penalties and fines against those who make, assemble, maintain, lease or sell the games, which he says have cost the lottery about $138 million in the past year.

The machines are not just affecting revenue from scratch-off games. Some lottery retailers are not participating in the lottery’s two new products, Keno and Xpress Sports, introduced last year. Those games are monitor-based, and retailers are choosing the games of skill instead.

“The games of skill machines are appearing across the state, and we are deeply concerned the harm will only increase,” said Drew Svitko, executive director of the Pennsylvania Lottery. “These machines have the potential to cost the lottery hundreds of millions of dollars in future harm.

The programs funded by the lottery are already stretched and need every dollar they can get, according to Rebecca May-Cole, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

“[About] 3,900 people are on a waiting list for services paid for through the lottery funds,” May-Cole said.

The programs help seniors who are not qualified to receive Medicaid services because they make too much money, she said. The difference may be $10 more a week than the income limit.

“Now if you need assistance with nutrition, if you need assistance with bathing, if you need assistance with helping to cut your food, simply because you get $10 a week more than the Medicaid recipient doesn’t mean that those problems are solved for you,” said former Sen. Roy Afflerbach, public policy adviser for Adult Day Services, Senior Centers and Meals on Wheels who also helped draft the lottery legislation in 1971.

The bill would fine first-time offenders $5,000 per violation for the first-degree misdemeanor charge. A second offense would result in a fine of $10,000 and also be a first-degree misdemeanor. Those caught with the machines for a third time would be charged with a third-degree felony charge and fined at least $15,000 for each violation.

“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,” Miller said.

republished by the Gloucestercitynews.net with permission