So-called ‘games of skill’ are draining millions from senior programs | opinion

By Peter Shelly

There is no question that the explosion of so-called “games of skill” in communities across Pennsylvania is draining millions of dollars from life-saving programs for seniors funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery.

According to a lottery report, “…we present detailed analysis that estimates have lost more than $650 million in Pennsylvania Lottery scratch ticket sales to unregulated games of skill across the Commonwealth.” generated for older Pennsylvanians and local businesses…”

Every dollar pumped into one of these machines, which have proliferated in our communities at gas stations, pizza parlors, laundromats, thrift stores, or unlicensed “gaming parlors,” goes at the expense of older Pennsylvanians living on affordable meals on wheels recipes, or a program at a local senior center.

There is no question that wherever these machines are located, the operators of “games of skill” are threatening jobs in the casino industry and $2 billion in federal tax revenues.

At least 11 of the state’s regulated and supervised casinos have petitioned the PA Gaming Control Board to reduce the number of slot machines they operate because of unfair competition from those machines.

First, keep in mind that skill game operators do not pay a penny in state gambling taxes.

For comparison, in 2022, the state’s casinos generated $2,123,015,118 in gaming tax revenue for taxpayers. (It’s important to see the entire contribution down to the last dollar, as skill game operators haven’t even reached the last $118 generated by casinos.) To be clear, casinos have more in just a year provided as $2.1 billion.

Casinos provide more than 20,000 jobs, support businesses across the state and have invested billions in capital in the state. Skill game operators stick a machine in the wall and reap millions for it.

Finally, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Office of the Attorney General, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), and the Office of the Governor have publicly stated and/or testified before the legislature that these “skill game” machines are illegal. (There are now two cases in the Commonwealth Court regarding the legality of the machines.)

Despite this impact and the position of these authorities, there are more than 70,000 of these machines in the state, almost three times the number of legal, licensed and regulated slot machines in the state’s casinos.

The only question now is when, or if, lawmakers will step up and tighten state laws to address the growing threat these machines pose to the health and well-being of seniors, more than 20,000 high-paying casino jobs, and $2 billion – represent dollars in tax revenue.

Pete Shelly is a spokesperson for the Pennsylvanians Against Gaming Expansion. For more information, see Pennsylvanians Against Gaming Expansion.