Philadelphia Mayor Bans Skill Games In Effort To Make City Safer

Skill games remain a highly contested topic in Pennsylvania, but Philadelphia has decided the risk outweighs the reward.

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker signed a bill into law that officially makes it illegal for city gas stations and convenience stores to offer skill games

These games, similar to video lottery terminals, have the look and feel of slot machines. However, they incorporate other skill-related elements that separate them from other popular lottery options like instant lottery games.

Businesses statewide have offered skill games for years despite the state seizing machines on multiple occasions dating back to 2019. All parties have claimed the topic falls into a legal gray area. In Philly, that situation is now black and white.

Philadelphia skill game ban to help create ‘safer, cleaner and greener city’

The bill is one of three that Parker signed into law to make Philadelphia a “safer, cleaner and greener city” and create more access to economic opportunities for all, especially in vulnerable neighborhoods throughout the city. The three bills focused on:

  • Restricting certain businesses in Kensington, requiring them to remain closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
  • Banning license plate flipping devices, which people can use to avoid receiving photo-enforced tolls and traffic tickets.
  • Prohibiting skill games inside the city’s corner stores and gas stations

Parker called skill games a “literal thorn” in her side and cited two key issues – safety and responsibility. She said:

“It is not OK to tempt our residents from low- and moderate-income neighborhoods with opportunities to gamble away their hard-earned dollars. It is not OK to give children purchasing candy an opportunity to gamble with their lunch money. It is not OK to create situations where those who are interested in mugging Philadelphians literally wait outside of gas stations in the middle of residential areas to rob people of money that they won illegally gambling.”

Details of the latest Pennsylvania skill games bill

Councilmember Curtis Jones introduced the bill on Jan. 26. The City Council unanimously voted in favor of it in March, paving the way for Parker to sign it into law officially. It amends the city’s code regarding the “Prohibition on Certain Gambling Machines and Skills Games” and reads:

“It shall be unlawful for a business to operate any casino-style or skill game that accepts cash payment for the chance of a cash reward and is not otherwise regulated by the State of Pennsylvania.”

The bill does not create an outright ban on all skill games citywide. It allows two exceptions:

  • Licensed facilities as authorized and defined in the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act
  • Any location operating under a valid Commonwealth license to sell alcohol that has 30 or more seats readily available and in place for regular use by customers to consume food and beverage

Furthermore, these locations can only have up to five machines and may not pay winners’ prizes in cash, only electronically.

Businesses that violate these rules will receive a $1,000 fine per device per day and a notice of violation. If a business is still in violation after five days, the city may issue a notice of intent to cease operations.

Examples of violations include: 

  • Gas stations, convenience stores, and corner stores operating any skill game machine(s)
  • Licensed businesses, such as bars and restaurants, operating more than five machines

Manufacturers, businesses seek legal recourse over Philly prohibition

Philadelphia’s ban showcases one side of the state’s skill games argument: these games of chance put communities’ well-being and safety at risk.

But last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court took an opposing viewpoint. It denied requests to review a previous decision that allowed an operator, Banilla Games, to offer its titles based on skill components within the game. 

Several parties have already filed lawsuits in response to the Philadelphia ban. Manufacturer Pace-O-Matic, its distributor G&B Amusements, and South Philadelphia 7-Eleven franchisee Tariq Jalil are suing the city, claiming it has no right to regulate these games. They believe only the state should decide on such matters.

The state will likely do that soon, too. PA skill games remain unregulated, but Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposed FY 2024/25 budget includes regulating and taxing the industry at 42%. 

Both Shapiro and the Independent Fiscal Office believe it will immediately bring over $100 million in state taxes, and between $317 and $421 million by FY 2028/29.


Photo by Shutterstock

About the Author

Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby has been writing about the online and retail lottery industry in the US since 2021. He is a contributor to multiple Catena Media sites and has a background in poker, sports and psychology which he incorporates into his writing. You can email him at [email protected].
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