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Guest Opinion

Protect communities. Regulate skill games


When asked why he robbed banks, the infamous crook Willie Sutton reportedly responded: “Because that’s where the money is.”

Today, our communities are seeing an increase in crime because of the so-called “skill games” that have popped up in pizza shops, taverns, convenience stores and gas stations.

Why are the machines being targeted by thieves? Because that’s where the money is.

Thieves know that these machines have cash boxes. They know that, unlike highly regulated casinos, the local shops with skill games generally have little or no security procedures in place.

In March, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that a New York City man pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a theft ring that was targeting skill games in Pennsylvania and Virginia. As part of the plea agreement, the court learned that from April 2022 to March 2023 the theft ring targeted dozens of stores, broke into machines and stole approximately $550,000 in skill games money.

The Philadelphia City Council recently voted to ban businesses from having skill games unless they have a casino or liquor license and space for 30 patrons to eat or drink. Philadelphia lawmakers pointed to an increase in crime as one of the main reasons for the ban.

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association (PDAA) sent a letter in February to Governor Josh Shapiro asking him to work with state lawmakers and district attorneys on regulating these machines in our communities.

PDAA did not take a position on the legality of the machines. That’s an issue for state lawmakers or the courts.

Rather, district attorneys are concerned about the rise in crime surrounding these skill game locations.

“These unlicensed and unregulated skill games have put a strain on law enforcement in many communities,” the PDAA letter said. “We sympathize with the owners of the establishments that rely on these machines for extra income, but we must recognize that there are societal costs with their operation.”

The district attorneys are urging lawmakers to give law enforcement clear guidance on what is legal and what is illegal in respect to skill games. They also are seeking consumer protection measures, security requirements, and mechanisms to prevent underage use.

Studies have shown that a tax on the unregulated machines could produce hundreds of millions in revenue, money that district attorneys believe could be used to make our communities safer and improve mental health services in the counties.

Without security requirements and regulation, these skill games will continue to attract criminals in search of easy money. And that puts all of us at risk.

John Adams is the district attorney of Berks County and chairman of the Communications Committee for the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.

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