Capitol Beat

Opinion: Skill games present a golden opportunity for Pennsylvania

State Sen. Gene Yaw writes in support of regulating skills games at the state level.

State Sen. Gene Yaw speaks at a press conference in the state Capitol in January 2023.

State Sen. Gene Yaw speaks at a press conference in the state Capitol in January 2023. Commonwealth Media Services

Skill games are a huge topic of discussion in Harrisburg these days.

For those who don’t know, they are interactive games, first and foremost. The interactive element sets them apart from the pre-programmed devices, such as slot machines, where, irrespective of the player’s activity, the outcome is already determined. Skill games are a challenge to eye-hand coordination. That is the skill.

They are located in fraternal clubs, veterans’ organizations and taverns as well as other local businesses throughout the Commonwealth. Revenue generated by these skill games is shared with those entities.

If you want to know why skill games are important, just walk into a neighborhood food market in western Pennsylvania. Or visit a family-owned restaurant in Lebanon County. Or a VFW in Bucks County. Or a convenience store in Indiana County. Skill games are a piece of the small business economy in our state and critical to helping these organizations pay their staff, pay their bills and pay for donations that help their communities.

In short, these games produce local revenue and, perhaps most importantly, skill games can only be played in person at the premise where they are located, not remotely, not on a phone or computer. It is this in-person aspect which makes skill games popular in small businesses and clubs.

Critics opine that skill games take money away from the state’s lottery and casinos, but the facts simply do not support this assertion.

Over the last few years, both the lottery and casino revenues have reported record-high earnings. Moreover, casino and lottery games are available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by way of any personal device. It’s hard to understand how casinos and the lottery could experience negative impacts, given these facts.

A study from Peter Zaleski, an economist and former professor at Villanova University, looked at four nearby states with lotteries but no skill games: Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. From 2012 to 2019, Pennsylvania’s lottery sales growth exceeded these states by a rate of 2.22%.

Again, the facts simply do not support the argument that skill games are a threat to the Pennsylvania lottery.

Clearly, skill games are filling a demand currently unmet by casinos or the lottery. Maybe people just get tired of scratching and want a more challenging undertaking.

Other critics, without legal support, say that skill games are illegal. Those statements are contrary to court decisions that affirm skill games differ from games of chance and are not under the regulation of the Gaming Control Act.

Given these decisions, some decided by judges just this year, I want to make sure we have accountability, regulation and enforcement of these games, along with appropriate taxes. That’s why I introduced Senate Bill 706.

Thousands of these legal skill games exist throughout the state. That cannot and should not be ignored. There is clearly a demand for the type of entertainment these games provide. My legislation also would shut down illegal games that have flooded the market.

The legal games also benefit local clubs and businesses, not the corporate casinos and out-of-state gambling companies.

For years, the operators of Pennsylvania Skill, the prime distributor of skill games in the state, have offered to help establish a control system that would provide tax revenue to the Commonwealth exceeding $300 million annually. Senate Bill 706 will provide regulation and the tax revenue.

As an aside, Pennsylvania Skill’s game terminals are Pennsylvania-made. The terminals are manufactured by Miele Manufacturing in Williamsport and parts are sourced from businesses all over the state. More directly, this manufacturing process provides employment for hundreds of people.

It’s time we recognize the benefit this industry brings to our state and offer regulatory support so that we can ensure it flourishes – safely and responsibly.

Senator Gene Yaw was elected to represent the 23rd Senatorial District consisting of Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, Tioga and Union counties. He serves as majority chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.