Pennsylvania Supreme Court To Hear Case On Legality Of Skill Games

Another state is getting into the thick of the skill games legality debate.

This week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced it would hear a case to determine whether skill games should be legal within its borders.

The decision comes after it has denied previous requests to take up the matter.

Skills games have been a hot topic in Pennsylvania for years and have created a lot of controversy in Virginia as of late.

These machines in Pennsylvania are located in businesses that offer Keno or lottery draw games.

However, they are currently not regulated. Some lawmakers want them banned outright, while others want skill games legalized and regulated for tax revenue.

PA Supreme Court to address 2 gambling issues

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted a petition from state Attorney General Michelle Henry to review a December ruling by the Commonwealth Court that unregulated skill games are legal games of skill in the state.

That means the state Supreme Court will determine the legality of skill game machines.

In December, the Commonwealth Court ruled the games were legal despite being unregulated.

The court order states that it will address two issues for the case:

“Does an electronic slot machine cease to be an illegal ‘gambling device,’ governed predominantly by chance, if the machine’s manufacturers embed into its programming a so-called “skill” element that is almost entirely hidden from view and is almost impossible to complete?

“Should gambling statutes governing ‘slot machines’ be read in pari materia to supply an appropriate definition of the term?”

“Pari materia” is Latin. It means “on the same subject matter.”

PA skill game developers remain hopeful

The skill games issue has been debated for years in Pennsylvania. Even though they have been legal, cities like Philadelphia have banned them from their stores.

December’s Commonwealth Court ruling was hopeful to give some clarity to the state. However, the Supreme Court’s decision puts everything back into question.

Pace-O-Matic (POM), a Georgia-based skill games manufacturer, recently spoke to PlayPennsylvania, a fellow Catena Media publication. It believes the December decision speaks for itself:

“We remain confident in the merits of our case, as their legality has been upheld unanimously by the Commonwealth Court as well as in every court where the legality of our games has been challenged. Our attorneys will continue to defend the legality of our skill games, which support local small businesses and fraternal clubs across the Commonwealth.”

Tax revenue at risk of being lost

This debate isn’t as simple as legal or illegal.

There’s a third option in the mix that could be pushed out – legal with regulation.

Some Pennsylvania lawmakers want to see skill games legalized, but regulated so the state can collect tax revenue.

Senator Gene Yaw introduced Senate Bill 706 last year, which would regulate the machines with a 16% tax rate. He estimated around $300 million in annual tax revenue.

Gov. Josh Shapiro also anticipated taxing skill games in the state. According to PlayPennsylvania, he was allocating the revenue to future state budgets.

Virginia still debating skill games

Virginia lawmakers have been at odds over skill games throughout the 2024 legislative session.

Both the state House and Senate passed legislation that would legalize and tax the machines, but Gov. Glenn Youngkin gutted the bill.

This upset local businesses, which showed their displeasure with temporary boycotts of selling retail lottery tickets.

The House and Senate rejected Youngkin’s amended bill, and it was left off the new budget entirely.

Though a special session was called this week to potentially address the matter, no new ground has been made to legalize skill games.

It remains a polarizing topic that seems to be difficult to find a consensus on how to properly handle.


Photo by Matt Rourke / AP

About the Author

Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis

Lead Writer
A member of Catena Media since 2020, Drew Ellis is the Lead Writer at PlayiLottery, where he handles coverage of the online and retail lottery industry in the US. He previously spearheaded news content at PlayMichigan, where he covered one of the most prominent online lottery industries in the US — among the many other aspects of Michigan's sprawling iGaming market. You can email him at [email protected].
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