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Guest Opinion

Regulate, tax legal skill games in Pa.


No doubt exists that Pennsylvania is home to tens of thousands of illegal gambling machines.

These are the games you find in mini-casinos, gambling dens, and other locations that attract crime. They are ruining our neighborhoods and downtowns in record numbers and none of us wants these eyesores in our communities. They need to be shut down.

The best way to get rid of these machines and the problems that follow them is for state lawmakers to pass legislation to regulate and tax legal skill games. The measure calls for providing funding for law enforcement to crack down on the illegal games that have become a major issue in areas like Philadelphia, DuBois and elsewhere.

Gov. Josh Shapiro supports the idea of regulating skill games and ending the wave of illegal games proliferating across the commonwealth. He also knows the state will benefit from an estimated $300 million in new tax revenue that legal skill games will generate in just the first year. The funding will increase annually as the market matures.

While illegal machines and the problems connected to them rightfully get a lot of attention, it’s important to highlight how legal skill games support small restaurants and bar owners, VFWs and American Legions, volunteer fire companies and fraternal groups. The supplemental income from skill games is used to pay bills and staff, make improvements and support charities.

I see firsthand why this legislation is so important. The problem of illegal gambling machines in the state will only get worse without regulation. I understand what it means to create an entirely legal system for games of skill in the commonwealth. After spending 27 years with the FBI, 12 years in the state attorney general’s office, and four years as commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, I now oversee the compliance team at Pace-O-Matic, which creates the software for the legal Pennsylvania skill games.

Pace-O-Matic is not waiting for legislation, we have already created our own stringent operating standards. In the rare instance that an establishment operating our games is not abiding by our terms, we remove our games.

I can only monitor legal Pennsylvania skill games, not the illegal gambling machines flooding the market. For that, the legislation sponsored by Sen. Gene Yaw of Williamsport and Rep. Danilo Burgos of Philadelphia is critical.

In my work for Pace-O-Matic, I have seen firsthand how, in places such as Wyoming and Washington D.C., when games are legal and regulated, illegal games quickly leave the market.

Just to be clear, a huge difference exists between legal games of skill and illegal gambling machines.

Legal Pennsylvania skill games are based on skill, not chance. They can only be played in person — not on a phone or computer — making them a local gaming revenue stream. Much of the money from legal skill games stays in the community where the games are located. Every court that has ruled on this issue has found that Pennsylvania skill games are legal, including a unanimous Commonwealth Court ruling last year.

Illegal games, by contrast, are based entirely on chance and there is no effort to keep the revenue in the state.

Opponents of the regulation and taxation of skill games are mostly casinos. They like to spin an untrue tale that the games are financial competition to them. They fail to mention the revenue records they regularly break.

It’s time for the out-of-state casino industry to stop blocking efforts to clean up Pennsylvania. We need to pass legislation and put a stop to illegal games and all the problems that come with them.

Frank Noonan is a former Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner who also worked for the FBI and state Attorney General’s office. He leads compliance efforts for Pennsylvania Skill, operated by Pace-O-Matic.

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