Pennsylvania Games of Skill – We continue to get numerous questions from our members about the legality of Pennsylvania Skill amusement device games (known as “Games of Skill”) in Pennsylvania.  These questions involve the interpretation of case law and statutes (such as the PA Crimes Code) and thus we must advise our members to consult with their own private counsel as to the legality of these games. The MBDA cannot opine on whether Games of Skill are legal in Pennsylvania. What we can report is that the legality of these games is an issue of debate between the PLCB, the state police and the manufacturer of the devices. The PLCB sent an email to licensees on June 12, 2019 concerning Games of Skill alleging that such games are illegal. The email from the PLCB is set forth below:

“Attention Licensee:

In light of recent news coverage regarding illegal gambling devices – games of skill popping up at bars, restaurants, convenience stores and other venues where players pay cash to play a game for a chance of winning cash prizes – the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board wanted to bring this matter to your attention as a retail liquor licensee.

According to the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Lottery, skill games are illegal in the commonwealth. As such, possessing or operating one or more of these machines on your licensed premises may be grounds for the Pennsylvania State Police, Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement to issue a citation against your license. While the PLCB cannot provide you with legal guidance as to whether a particular gaming machine is illegal, citations put your license at risk, both through the citation process and upon application for renewal to the PLCB.”

Quickly after the PLCB issued its email, representatives from Pace-O-Matic, the manufacturer of the Pennsylvania Skill games, responded that the PLCB’s notice is “DEAD Wrong” and that the Pennsylvania Skill and Pace-O-Matic games are legal. Counsel for Pennsylvania Skill and Pace-O-Matic games also threatened a lawsuit if the PLCB did not retract its statement. To our knowledge, there has been no public retraction by the PLCB. Pace-O-Matic relies on a Beaver County Court of Common Pleas decision which found certain of its games (Tic-Tac-Toe, unlockable bonus game, and the “Follow-Me” mini-game) to be games of skill and, thus, legal. This case was not appealed and so it only applies in Beaver County and with respect to the specific games mentioned in the case. 

In a recent court case, the Pennsylvania State Police stated that they confiscate an average of 590 gaming/gambling devices annually. Of the several thousand devices confiscated over the past several years, a very small percentage of them have been Games of Skill.  However, there is a chance if a distributor has one of these devices in their premises, the device could be confiscated and/or they may be cited by the State Police. 
We continue to tell our members that without further clarity from the courts or state legislature, the legality of Games of Skill remains a gray area that could vary depending upon what county your business is located in.  As such, we must advise our members to proceed at their own risk and to consult with their own private counsel as to the legality of these games. We will monitor the situation and let our members know of any new developments.